Did Congress refused to authorize Obama’s request for military action against Syria in 2013?

President Donald Trump’s military action against Syria in response to the use of weapons of mass destruction (sarin gas) was met with praise from many Republican members of Congress. The Democratic members, on the other hand, point out that President Barack Obama asked for approval to conduct the same military action in 2013 but was denied.

In August 2013, Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons in a scenario similar to what happened earlier this month. Most Democrats that supported the request for military support in 2013 have called on Trump to request the same authority. In contrast, most Republicans who opposed the request in 2013 have changed stances.

  • Mitch McConnell said in 2013 that he opposed the request for approval saying that there was no national security risks and there were too many unanswered questions. Recently, McConnell gave support by saying it was a clear signal that Assad can no longer use chemical weapons. When asked about the shift, he stated that Obama’s proposal was not well-planned or well-executed.
  • In 2013, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, opposed the request because he believed that it could not achieve its stated objectives and that it would make things worse. On the other hand, he said that Trump’s actions were appropriate and just.
  • Senator Marco Rubio called Trump’s actions “the right move.” In 2013, he said that the US should be empowering the Syrian people rather than resorting to military force. He added that he was not convinced that military action would have worked. When asked about his change in position, Rubio said that Assad was losing in 2013. When the Russians entered in 2015, it changed the dynamics. Plus, there are US troops in the region which gives a national security issue.
  • Senator Orrin Hatch approved of Trump’s action but in 2013 he said that launching a few missiles would do nothing to end the war in Syria and that he had reservations about the use of force in Syria.
  • House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who tweeted “God Bless the USA” following Trump’s strikes, said that he saw no present danger to the US to justify going to war in Syria.
  • Representative Ted Poe of Texas called Trump’s action appropriate and proportional but in 2013, he proposed a bill which would prohibit the use of funds for military action. When asked about his change in stance, he said that Syria and Russia agreed to turn over all of Assad’s weapons in order to avert military action. They lied and that the diplomatic option failed.

Not all Republican members of Congress have changed their point of view on the issue. In 2013, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham supported the request for approval and they continue to support of military action with Trump. Representative Thomas Massie and Senator Rand Paul have always opposed action and have criticized Trump for not getting approval. Senator Bob Corker said that he hopes that steps will be taken to involve Congress even though he resists efforts to take up new authorizations for military force. Other Republican members such as Senator Jeff Flake have supported requiring Congressional authorization of future activities.

Before requesting approval of Congress in 2013, Obama claimed that he already had authority to carry out military action in Syria. After requesting approval, some members of Congress have accused him of putting the burden on them to act. Whip counts in Congress showed neutral to negative support for approval. There were no votes taken on the issue. As a result of Congress’ reluctance to authorize military force and lack of support from voters, Obama avoided action in Syria. He entered into an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons.

References and Further Reading

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