Politics
Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a U.N. team of experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus, state media said. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Boehner warns Obama on Syria

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Republican House Speaker John Boehner fired a warning shot at the White House Monday, saying the president should consult with Congress and explain his policy to the public before intervening in the chaotic Syrian civil war.

“The options facing the president are complicated, have far-reaching ramifications, and may require significant resources … [so] if he chooses to act, the president must explain his decision publicly, clearly, and resolutely,” said the statement from Boehner’s office.

Without citing Libya, Boehner’s move highlighted President Barack Obama’s unilateral decision in 2010 to remove Libya’s dictator. The subsequent U.S. airpower-only intervention helped remove the dictator, but also helped al-Qaida’ jihadis grab a huge armory and extend their jihad into neighboring Mali and Algeria.

The intervention also left Libya with a government too weak to curb jihadis attacks, including the September 2011 attack on the State Department’s poorly guarded consulate in Benghazi.

The Boehner statement asserted a role for Congress, but didn’t try to argue that Obama can’t intervene in Syria without a go-ahead from Congress.

“The president is commander-in-chief. With that power comes obligations,” he wrote. “One, of course, is to consult with Congress on the options he sees as a viable response. This consultation has not yet taken place, but it is an essential part of the process.”

The warning comes as the White House and Congress prepare for a bitter series of high-stakes disputes over immigration, the 2014 budget and the government’s credit limit.

“More than just to Congress, the president has an obligation to the American people to explain the rationale for the course of action he chooses,” said the Boehner statement, which doesn’t create any political risks for Boehner.

That explanation, said the statement, has to explain why intervention would be “critical to our national security; and what the broader strategy is to achieve stability,” said the statement, which also noted that “surveys have shown that the American public is hesitant to intervene in Syria.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted late last week, showed that only 12 percent of respondents would support U.S. airstrikes in the war, which pits jihadi-supported rebels fighting a dictatorial government that is backed by Iran and Russia. The rebels are mostly from the Sunni sect of Islam, while the government is aligned with the Iranian-style Shia sect.

Only four percent would support the dispatch of U.S. ground forces to Syria.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they opposed the intervention, said the poll.

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