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Finally, on Syria, we've rediscovered the Constitution

U.S. CongressBiological and Chemical WeaponsBashar AssadSyrian Civil WarJohn BoehnerApple iPadEric Cantor

OK, John Kerry, you convinced me: Let’s go bomb Syria!

Just kidding.

Like many Americans, I have serious reservations about this country getting involved in that country’s nasty civil war.

Still, the sight of the secretary of State addressing senators about the Syrian crisis and taking questions Tuesday was, well, a sight for sore eyes. It’s about time that Congress took seriously the power invested in it by the Constitution to take this nation to war.

As American University professor Chris Edelson put it so well in his Aug. 30 op-ed in The Times, “Obama and the power to go to war”:

The president needs congressional authorization for a military attack that is not related to an actual or imminent threat to the United States. What is happening in Syria is an ongoing atrocity. Tens of thousands of people have been killed — some, it appears, by the Bashar Assad government's use of chemical weapons. This is a moral outrage. But it is not a direct threat to the United States, and the Obama administration does not suggest otherwise.

And that sums it up pretty neatly. Americans don’t care for Assad; they certainly don’t accept the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. But they also don’t see how this poses a direct threat to our security. And after Iraq, and Afghanistan (and let’s not forget Somalia, and the Balkans, and heck, even Lebanon in the 1980s), well, let’s just say that being the world’s policeman is getting old.

Sure, the president already has some powerful, bipartisan allies. On Tuesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) both announced they will support Obama’s bid to punish Syria militarily for crossing a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. And face it, when two men who normally have nothing in common with the president, policy-wise, choose to support him, you know we’re in uncharted waters.

The administration will try to make its case this week to Congress, the American people and the world that military action against the Syrian government is the right course.

You may agree. You may disagree. But at least, this time, Congress is debating the issue. There will be a vote. That vote will have consequences, both internationally and domestically.

It’s the way this country’s democracy is supposed to work. And that’s a good thing, regardless of what is decided.

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