This Is What Passes For A War Authorization These Days

Yesterday, the House voted 273-156 to let the president arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS:

The administration’s request was an amendment to a must-pass, stopgap measure to keep the government running through mid-December. Although the amendment had the early support of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., a number of lawmakers in both parties began defecting, prompting a last-minute push by party leaders to build support.

New York’s Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said a range of top Democrats worked to the last minute to gather votes for the president’s plan, which would train some 5,000 Syrian rebels in the first year at facilities in Saudi Arabia. … Having secured approval in the House, the bill now moves to the Senate, where it may receive a skeptical reception. In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry came under intense questioning about the White House’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

The idea is as doomed now as it long has been. The US trained the entire Iraqi army in country for years – and they still scarpered. The problem is political; almost certainly unsolvable except in the long run by the parties themselves; and made utterly solvable by US intervention. The Senate is set to vote on the measure today. Weigel notes who voted “aye”:

Everybody in competitive races. Georgia Rep. John Barrow, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall are among the very last Democrats in districts that voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012. They went “aye.” So did Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, both Senate candidates in tough races. On the Republican side, Senate candidates Tom Cotton and Steve Daines voted “aye,” as did Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman and Florida Rep. Steve Southerland. They’re the only two Republicans in seats that appear now to be toss-ups, with strong Democratic challengers cutting through the headwind.

Most Democratic leaders. The top three Democrats in the House — Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn — were ayes, as was DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The only leadership figure to break with the president was Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Every Republican leader. From John Boehner to the deputy whip team, the GOP was on board.

And Alex Rogers relays what the “nays” had to say:

Lawmakers who opposed the bill said the President’s strategy to arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels is misguided. The Obama Administration is hoping these fighters can help beat back the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “I’ve never been satisfied that we’re not going to end up fighting people that we’ve armed at some point in the future,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Caroline, said. “No one ever defined victory to me that made any sense whatsoever.”

The bill even lost the support of Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a top Democratic leader. “I support the President’s overall strategy; I support what he’s doing in providing air support for the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels,” Van Hollen said. “I have misgivings about this piece because the priority of the so-called Syrian rebels is to defeat [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad. And I understand that, but it’s hard at this point to see how defeating Assad strengthens the mission against ISIS.”

To Allahpundit, the vote doesn’t look like such a ringing endorsement:

Here’s the roll. Obama ended up getting many more Republican votes than Democratic ones (159 versus 114), including Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Paul Ryan. It was tea partiers like Justin Amash, Michele Bachmann, and Louie Gohmert who ended up in the opposition. Truth be told, though, no faction within the House is keen on O’s train-the-rebels strategy; this resolution, in fact, will expire on December 11th, the same day that the new continuing resolution would expire. What the two sides are doing here is simply punting the issue until after the midterms, when the GOP won’t have to worry about any electoral blowback if they try to block O on a war effort that’s surprisingly popular for the moment.

Ryan Grim and Sam Stein pick up chatter in Washington that the CIA, which already tried arming the rebels, is not too sanguine about trying again:

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed. “I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.

Francine Kiefer notes that the procedure the House followed allowed a fair amount of debate over the amendment:

For surer passage, the White House wanted the Syria authorization and the spending bill, known as continuing resolution, to be one piece of legislation. No one would want to shut down the government, and so Syria would pass. But House members strenuously objected: Because of its seriousness, Syria deserved to be debated and voted on separately. Leadership listened. Members got six hours of debate and a vote, passing the amendment 273 to 156. Then the amendment was attached to the spending bill and voted on as a package. It passed 319 to 108.

Alas, for procedural reasons, senators will not have that option and will have to vote on the welded package sent from the House. Some senators plan to vote no, but it is expected to pass.

By the way, Senator Tim Kaine has drafted an actual war authorization, but Waldman doubts it will go anywhere:

[E]verything Obama says he is committed to is incorporated in Kaine’s proposal. It even leaves the 2001 AUMF in place, which is either a sensible choice allowing for flexibility in fighting terrorism or a loophole you could drive a truck through, so long as the White House maintains that ISIS and al Qaeda are allied. Will it go anywhere? It may be too soon to know, but I’m guessing that the White House will say, privately if not publicly, that they don’t want to “tie the president’s hands.” Democrats will be responsive to that pressure (if it comes) from the White House, while Republicans will probably be uneasy about anything that could constrain the war-making ability of this president or a future one.

And the beat goes on …