Thursday, July 11, 2013

Congress and Syria

Who in Congress should have primary responsibility for action on aid to Syrian rebels? The foreign policy committees think they should, and they have even been voting on Syrian aid bills. But the intelligence committees are the only panels authorized by Congress to handle CIA covert operations, and only they have been briefed on the administration's supposedly secret actions so far.

Now, it appears, there is a policy disagreement between the two groups: the foreign policy committees favor U.S. actions on behalf of the rebels and the intelligence committees are raising doubts. Reportedly they have even voted against the administration's limited secret effort.

Historically, negative reactions to proposed covert operations have been quite influential on presidential decisions, even though White House lawyers argue that the President doesn't have to be bound by committee votes.

I'm sympathetic to the intelligence committees on this one,not only because I have my own doubts about how well we understand the opposition and how effectively we can limit what the radical jihadists get in the process, but also on congressional grounds. The intelligence committees are best suited to assess the administration plan; they have the experience and the jurisdiction.

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