Senators Explain How They All Won the Syria Showdown and Don’t Need to Vote Right Now

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin says time is on our side.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The president of the United States spent most of Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol. Guarded by phalanxes of police officers, reporters hidden safely behind velvet ropes, he didn’t really say anything to the press. “Good to see you guys!”—that was about it, as he headed from a Democratic luncheon to the Republican one.

But senators leaving the meetings came back with stories of total unanimity, and no hurry to vote quickly on a resolution that, as of this morning, looked far, far short of the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate.

A vote right now, said Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, “weakens the possibility that we’ll get rid of these chemical weapons. A negative vote makes it less likely you’ll get Russia and Syria to get rid of these weapons. A vote with the conditionality that you’re authorized unless Syria fails to get rid of its weapons keeps the pressure where it belongs.”

No need to schedule a new vote, though. The important thing was celebrating what the threats to use airstrikes had done so far. “Credible use of force has brought the international community to where it should have been in the beginning, against Syria’s use of chemical weapons,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, the Republican who won Barack Obama’s old seat in the Tea Party wave, told reporters that “there was no Rand Paul or Mike Lee battle in the room.”

“Everybody was taken with the fact that this is the national security of the United States, and the president has asked Congress to take a role.” he said. “He told us that the Iranians thought it was stupid of Assad to use chemical weapons because of all the attention that it brought.”

What Kirk meant—there was no one pressing the president to strike Syria to prove that chemical weapons would be punished. Threatening to never let it happen again was enough, for now. When Levin was asked what he made of Vladimir Putin saying that the U.S. needed to back off on talk of strikes, he said Putin “helped to identify exactly what the motivation is for them finally doing what they should have done in Syria a long time ago—sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, and not have chemical weapons.”