45 Days: Congress’s Non-War Alternatives in Syria

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, offers an alternative plan to approve a “limited” military strike in Syria under certain circumstances.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp have all announced their opposition to airstrikes in Syria. Pryor’s up for re-election in 2014, and his opponent is a hawk who wants even wider airstrikes. Manchin and Heitkamp have their jobs until 2018 at least, but they’re backing a decidedly dovish alternative to the missiles. Their resolution:

The Government of Syria must become a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and take concrete steps to comply with the terms and conditions of the Convention;

The failure by the government of Bashar al-Assad to sign and comply with the Convention clearly demonstrates a disregard of international norms on the use of chemical weapons; and

If the Government of Syria does not sign the Convention within 45 [days] after the date of the enactment of this resolution, all elements of national power will be considered by the United States government.

Requirement for a Syria strategy and building and international coalition. Not later than 45 days after the date of the enactment of this resolution, the President shall submit to Congress a long term strategy for Syria, while concurrently using all appropriate diplomatic tools to develop and secure commitments from the international community with the shared strategic interest of preventing the proliferation and use of Syria’s chemical weapons.

That’s one plan. Another, via Greg Sargent, has come from House progressives, led by Rep. Barbara Lee—the one member of Congress who voted against the authorization of force in Afghanistan 12 years back.

The United States should work with the United Nations and with the international community to exhaust all appropriate diplomatic and non-military options to facilitate a negotiated political settlement in Syria and hold the regime of Bashar al-Assad and all responsible parties accountable for human rights violations, including the use of chemical weapons, through efforts such as—

(1) requiring the Government of Syria to allow unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and agencies so the civilian population receives needed assistance, without discrimination;

(2) engaging in forceful diplomacy involving the international community and the United Nations to advance a negotiated settlement, including pressuring all internal and external parties to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process and other negotiations and regional arrangements with the League of Arab States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation;

(3) seeking to strengthen and coordinate multilateral sanctions targeted against the assets of President Bashar al-Assad and others who may be involved in ordering or perpetrating crimes under international law;

(4) investigating and prosecuting crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law, including appropriately-timed International Criminal Court referral of the situation in Syria to ensure accountability for the use of chemical weapons and crimes against humanity;

(5) working with member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention to collectively determine an appropriate response to further prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction;

(6) working with the international community to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal; and

(7) enabling United States courts to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and othe crimes under international law committed in Syria, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and to encourage other nations to do the same.

So far Republican opposition has produced just one white-and-black alternative plan—this one from Rep. Devin Nunes.

It is the sense of Congress that the President shall report to Congress within sixty days on the justification for using military force in Syria, including:

a. An explanation of the steps he has taken to secure greater support from America’s allies, including NATO, for his plan of action in Syria;

b. A detailed plan for military action in Syria, including specific goals and military objectives;

c. An explanation of what would qualify as a successful effort to “degrade” the Assad regime’s chemical weapons supply;

d. An explanation of how a “limited” military strike, if that is the preferred course of action, would help to secure Syria’s chemical weapons supplies and deter the future use of chemical weapons;

e. An explanation of how a “limited” military strike would advance the President’s policy supporting regime change in Syria, and what he has done to ensure that terrorist groups will not seize power there and/or gain control of Syria’s chemical weapons;

f. An explanation of how a “limited” military strike on Syria would prevent Iran and Russia from keeping the Assad regime in power;

g. An explanation of whether al Qaeda or other terrorist groups in Syria have access to chemical weapons, and whether they have used them in the past or could use them in the future;

h. An explanation of whether weapons from Libya are now being used by the Syrian opposition.

i. An estimate of the financial cost of his course of action in Syria.

The Nunes plan is, generally, deferential to the commander-in-chief. The Democratic plans, which come from both the left and centrist wings of the party, ask him to turn around the standoff and find a peaceful resolution.