Those in Congress weighing the difficult decision of whether to authorize a strike against the Assad regime in Syria -- and, if the answer is yes, by which means and toward what specific goal -- might benefit from consulting Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
Nunes' winning strategy: Ensure plausible deniability for any potential negative outcome by criticizing President Obama for whatever he might say or do.
On Aug. 30, Nunes said Obama should consult closely with Congress before settling on a response to Assad's use of chemical weapons. Two days later, after Obama said he would ask Congress for its approval in advance of a possible strike, Nunes scolded the president for "hiding behind Congress."
Nunes, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was similarly foggy about how vigorous the response should be. On Sunday he criticized the timidity of "the 'limited' military response endorsed by President Obama." Two days earlier, however, he was advising Obama not to act too forcefully, lest he risk "a regime change strategy ... empowering al-Qaida."
So, which is it, Congressman? Should Obama consult with Congress or demonstrate some mettle and assert his leadership? Should he hit hard enough to take out the man Nunes himself calls "an appalling ... bloodthirsty tyrant," or strike with just enough force to rattle the Syrian leadership without removing Assad from power? Nunes seems to have endorsed all of those positions.
Of course, those in Congress faced with this decision might rather follow the lead of John Boehner, leader of the Republican majority in the House. Boehner, an adversary of the president in almost every regard, set aside usual partisan interests and agreed to support Obama's call for action. No conditions or veiled criticisms.
"We have enemies around the world that need to understand we are not going to tolerate this type of behavior," Boehner told reporters after meeting with Obama. "We also have allies around the world and allies in the region who also need to know America will be there and stand up when necessary."
Boehner could have opted to position himself with the don't-blame-us crowd, but that's not what leaders do. Nunes and friends -- and even some Democratic critics -- want to sit on the bench and snipe. They prefer to raise a wet index finger to gauge the political winds and then flap their mouths about it. No fingerprints on this one for me, folks. It's just too tough a call. What a bunch of political opportunists.
As a candidate in 2007, Obama said a president should go to Congress for authority to launch a military attack unless an enemy's missiles are headed our way. He would look like a hypocrite or, worse, a liar for not living up to his words now. He's doing what he said he would do.
We know this: The nation is war-weary. No one would win if Obama were to authorize a strike [which polls show most Americans oppose] and members of Congress then stirred the pot of dissention. We need unity. We need leadership on the part of the Congress and the president.
The parties can get back to bad-mouthing each other next week. The present discussion is too important for any of that.