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Draft SFRC Joint Resolution on Syria

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 11:03 PM

The would-be Syria AUMF—which is evidently still subject to markup in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—can be found here.  As for key provisions, readers will be interested in the draft’s second section:

SECTION 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.

(a)   AUTHORIZATION-The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to: (1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria; (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons; and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.

(b) REQUIREMENT FOR DETERMINATION THAT USE OF MILITARY FORCE IS NECESSARY- Before exercising the authority granted in subsection (a), the President shall make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that—

(1) the United States has used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to prevent the deployment and use of weapons of mass destruction by Syria;

(2)  the Syrian government has conducted one or more significant chemical weapons attacks;

(3) the use of military force is necessary to respond to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government;

(4) it is in the core national security interest of the United States to use such military force;

(5) the United States has a military plan to achieve the specific goals of responding to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria, to deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons, and to degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future; and

(6) the use of military force is consistent with and furthers the goals of the United States strategy toward Syria, including achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.

The Joint Resolution also contains a few restrictions, as well as congressional notification and reporting requirements. Perhaps the most significant limiting language is set forth in the third and fourth sections:

SECTION 3. LIMITATION. The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations.

SECTION 4. Termination of the Authorization for the Use of United States Armed Forces.

The authorization in section 2(a) shall terminate 60 days after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, except that the President may extend, for a single period of 30 days, such authorization if –

(1) the President determines and certifies to Congress, not later than 5 days before the date of termination of the initial authorization, that the extension is necessary to fulfill the purposes of this resolution as defined by Section 2(a) due to extraordinary circumstances and for ongoing and impending military operations against Syria under section 2(a); and

(2) Congress does not enact into law, before the extension of authorization, a joint resolution disapproving the extension of the authorization for the additional 30 day period; provided that any such joint resolution shall be considered under the expedited procedures otherwise provided for concurrent resolutions of disapproval contained in section 7 of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1546).

One off-the-cuff reaction, as I have only quickly skimmed the text.

The Joint Resolution applies some constraints, ones which not included in the White House’s initial draft. For example, unlike the latter, the SFRC proposal is temporally limited, in that congressional authorization would lapse after ninety days, absent additional action from Congress. The draft resolution also hints at a geographic limitation, in that—again unlike the White House draft—it appears only to authorize strikes “against legitimate military targets in Syria” (my emphasis).  There’s also Section Three’s “no ground troops” language.  It comes as no surprise, given the tenor of today’s committee hearing, and, as above, appears to cabin the scope of any U.S. campaign in Syria.  (To be sure, Section Three does not literally bar the introduction of armed ground forces, period.  Instead the provision says that the SFRC draft does “not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations” (my emphasis).)

The SFRC’s proposal is thus in some respects narrower than the White House’s initial proposal, though the narrowing likely comes as no surprise to the Administration.   We’ll see how this bill gets tweaked in the coming days.  Stay tuned.