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Britain holds emergency session on Syria, while Congress phones it in

If you want to hear a full and open debate about the wisdom of going to war in Syria right now, you’ll have cross the Atlantic.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

If you want to hear a full and open debate about the wisdom of going to war in Syria right now, you’ll have cross the Atlantic.

If you want to hear a full and open debate about the wisdom of going to war in Syria right now, you’ll have to cross the Atlantic.

President Obama is considering a limited missile strike against Syria—in coordination with U.S. allies, including Britain—in response to the Syrian regime’s suspected use of chemical weapons. Airstrikes could come as early as Thursday, though Obama has said “we have not yet made a decision” on the next steps.

In London Thursday, members of Parliament were conducting an emergency session on the issue. Prime Minister David Cameron made the case for intervention, while some lawmakers in all three major parties sounded skeptical.

And it won’t end there: Cameron has said there’ll be a second vote in the coming days, in which Parliament will be asked specifically to authorize military action, after the U.N. has been consulted.

Compare that to the situation in the U.S., where there appears to be a lot less urgency. Many lawmakers are still in their districts on August recess, leaving the administration scrambling to arrange a conference call with Congressional leaders using classified phone lines, sources told NBC News.

More broadly, Republicans appear to be dragging their feet. In a letter sent to President Obama Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner asked the president to “make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy,”

Boehner added: “In addition, it is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.”

And a letter signed by 98 House Republicans and 18 Democrats warned Obama that “engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior Congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

The letter, circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, said lawmakers “stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.” But it offered no sign that they planned to do so.

The hands-off approach could allow the GOP to exploit the issue for political gain. With Americans wary of another military intervention in the Middle East, Republicans are eager to distance themselves from any decision to go to war. And insisting that Obama get congressional authorization helps further the notion of an out-of-control executive that much of the conservative movement has bought into lately. At the same time, some Republicans like Sen. John McCain are urging Obama to respond, and look ready to criticize him for not doing enough.

Either way, it’s clear that Congress isn’t going to provide us with an honest and reasoned debate over the pros and cons of launching airstrikes, despite the enormous significance and complexity of the issue.