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Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Alter Makes His Case For Congressional Approval Of Force In Syria

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

HH: Well, Russia’s back on the stage, and joining me to discuss that is Jonathan Alter of Bloomberg. Jonathan, what do you make of the Russian offer and the Syrian acceptance of the Russian offer today?

JA: Well, you know, it’s definitely worth pursuing. I don’t exactly trust Putin with his shirt on or off, but let’s see where it goes. You know, you want to always give diplomatic solutions a chance. I’m a hawk on this the same way I was about the Iraq war in 2003, but let’s explore the options.

HH: I’m also a hawk, and I’m urging anyone who will listen to me on the Republican side to vote yes, because it’s important not to damage the president’s credibility in a standoff which is essentially with Iran. Here’s the President, literally minutes ago, talking to Wolf Blitzer, Jonathan Alter, and let’s get your commentary on his answer to Wolf’s first question.

BO: It’s possible if it’s real. And I think it’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years, because these chemical weapons pose a significant threat to all nations and to the United States in particular. That’s why 98% of humanity has said we don’t use these. That protects our troops, and it protects children like the ones that we saw on those videos inside of Syria.

HH: Now Jonathan, when he says that the chemical weapons pose a particular threat to the United States, or to the United States in particular, that is an echo of W. making an argument about WMD. Are you uncomfortable hearing that coming from this president?

JA: No, no, not at all. I mean, the problem with W. was that the WMD didn’t turn out to be there. And in this case, it is there, and we’ve seen the evidence of it on television. And so, and anybody who’s had any of the briefings says there’s no doubt about the evidence. So it’s really not a comparable, in that sense. Look, WMD is a game-changer, and that was why I supported the Iraq war in the first place, because I believed Colin Powell. I was convinced that there was WMD, and it turned out to be tragically wrong and we went to war before knowing for sure. But only conspiracy theorists or people who don’t have their head screwed on right are arguing that the chemical weapons have not been used. And the problem is, look, my old colleague, Chris Dickey, he and I worked together at Newsweek for years, he’s covered many wars. And I had lunch with him last week, and he was talking about he’s been, he covered the Iraqi’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. These weapons are some of the most terrifying weapons imaginable. There’s a reason why after World War I in 1925, basically almost every nation in the world got together and banned these weapons. If we let this genie out of the bottle and it becomes kind of acceptable to use chemical stockpiles, we will look back on this as one of the worst decisions in American history, if indeed Congress were to stymie the President. Now because of the developments today, Hugh, I think there’s a chance that we might avoid that outcome, and this issue is taking a different shape.

HH: We’ve got a minute left, Jonathan. Do you think he should have gone to Congress? I think he should have just bombed them. He should not have asked for the authority.

JA: No, no, I think it’s good that he went to Congress. You know, both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush went to Congress for resolutions before the Gulf War and before the Iraq war. And so what Obama was doing was beginning to restore the Constitutional balance so that even in situations where there wasn’t an imminent danger, and you just wanted to launch a few Cruise missiles, you did it, as our founders envisioned with the consultation of Congress. So if Congress stomps on him and doesn’t go along, they are slitting their own throats, institutionally. What president in the future would ever go back to Congress again? They would just use the War Powers resolution of 1973 and act first and…

HH: That’s a very good argument. That’s…I hope the Congressmen are listening to that. That is a very good argument. Jonathan Alter of Bloomberg…

JA: Yeah, I wrote a piece about that in the New It’s up right now if people want to know more about that institutional argument.

HH: I will head for there, Thank you, Jonathan.

End of interview.

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