Serious doubts about U.S. action in Syria are surfacing all over editorial pages, social media, across the aisles of both chambers of Congress, throughout the nation, and around the world. If I were a headline writer, I'd have "It's a Mess" printed in the largest possible type.
I'm not a betting man when it comes to House or Senate votes unless I have a comfortable sense of just how well the roulette wheel of congressional debate is balanced. This particular wheel is about as wonky a wheel as I've seen in all my years on the Hill, and in the many years in the Executive branch following that. Making any bets about how the ball of President Obama's Syria strategy will fall is simply a fool's game at this point.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's 10-7 pro-action vote guarantees nothing in the full Senate, and nothing in the House, where the matter is yet to be taken up. We don't know what rules will be applied to the debates in either the Senate or the House, but I'm pretty sure that there will be plenty of two-minute remarks at least in the lower body. With 435 members in the House, even a two-minute rule bodes ill for a speedy debate. Even so, I doubt the final votes will mean anything to the several members of the international community Obama is talking up on his G-20 trip. And I'm going to go out on educated limb that even when the votes from both chambers are tallied, the hearts and minds of most Americans and our allies will remain opposed to any intervention.
While the Congress frets, worries, and postures as the President engages in some serious arm-twisting, I propose a different approach, one which may not blow anything up, but is one that may go far toward building international good will for the United States.
Consider that one Tomahawk missile of the type most likely to be sent flying to Damascus comes with a price tag of somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-1.4 million. Consider as well the total costs of the ships, the sailors, and other military personnel who will be taking part in a Syrian attack. I don't have a specific number in front of me, but let's say I'm probably not wrong that it will exceed $5 million for a few days action.
Now, there are more than two million Syrian refugees huddled in tent cities in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Approximately half those refugees are children. Zaatari, a camp in Jordan with 120,000 refugees is, according to a recent Christian Science Monitor story, about the size of Fayetteville, NC, but on just two square miles of land. The organizations running the region's camps are simply overwhelmed with the logistics and costs of caring for such incredible numbers...numbers that grow every day...numbers that would surely increase in rate should the United States start launching missiles.
If the White House wants to punish Bashar al-Assad, fine--so be it if the resolution passes and the President gives the command. But there is no reason in the world why we need to apply any more punishment to the refugees--especially the Syrian children who are the ultimate innocents.
Mr. President and members of Congress, here's my proposed rider to the joint White House/Congressional Attack Resolution:
- For every missile you authorize, you agree to set aside its fair market value to be distributed to human rights organization in all the Syrian refugee camps.
- In addition, tot up the daily rates for the ships and personnel required to launch the missiles, and set aside a like amount to be added to the per-missile account for the camps.
- Finally, for every post-attack floor statement or press release from a Congressman, Senator, or the President, should the whole thing blow up in your collective faces, each of you who publicly dodges accountability must donate one-year's salary to the refugee cause.
Perhaps you could name the amendment "Tomahawks for Camps."
I call for a vote.