Matt Cartwright (D-PA) Undecided on Bombing Syria for All the Right Reasons

Freshman Congressman Matt Cartwright of PA hasn’t even been in office a year yet, but he’s already been praised as the most valuable Democrat in PA. Once again, he has shown what has earned him that description with his stance on bombing Syria: he is undecided.The reasons he’s given for being undecided will find some sympathy in the camps of those already decided both for and against and should provide food for thought for all. One of the reasons he’s given is something that, to me, is central to the whole issue: whether America acts as part of an international force or as a rogue nation (like we did in Iraq).

(I should say that when Cartwright was running last year, I was field organizer for the PA state representative campaign of Maureen Madden. Madden’s campaign shared some office space and where our districts overlapped, our phone bankers asked voters about both candidates from a script I wrote.)

President Obama is scheduled to give a prime-time address tonight as the next step in his administration’s effort to make the case for military action in Syria. I recognize that this is a morally complex issue with no easy solutions whether one supports President Obama or not.  That being the case, my stance is that America should abide by whatever the UN’s decision is. At the very least, we don’t need to once again let civilians of other countries and soldiers who have volunteered to fight for this county die in an ill-fated attempt at being the world’s police.

One of the reasons Obama gave for opposing the war in Iraq as a “dumb war” years before he ran for president was the lack of international support. And yet here we are. He now says he’d like to bomb Syria regardless of what the UN says because he claims the UN is not upholding international norms. I think Obama is setting up the nation to look pretty bad if he intends on hinging his argument for carrying out military actions against a sovereign nation upon the defense of international norms if he intends on violating international norms in making his point. If it’s an international issue, let the international community handle it.

Congressman Cartwright was on MSNBC Sunday and Monday discussing his Syria position and laid out in detail why he’s still undecided. In addition to making his point about international support in both interviews, Cartwright also stressed that although public opinion is clearly against bombing Syria public opinion can be wrong, and put the burden of proof squarely on President Obama’s shoulders to explain to him and the nation how bombing Syria will keep the US safer than if we don’t bomb them.

I need the president to persuade me and I need the evidence to persuade me as well. And I also need to know that there’s good international backing behind it. (Sunday – 9/8/2013)

I need them to prove we do have … strong international support for it. (Monday 9/9/2013)

The part about international backing may be brief and worded as broadly as Obama’s words in his aforementioned anti-Iraq War speech – not specifically citing UN approval as a make-or-break factor. However, it may prove to be just as powerfull to have Congressman Cartwright saying that a major reason he’s undecided is that he needs to see significant multilateral support. It’s the low-key policy equivalent of railing against the prospect of America once again acting as the world’s police.

I don’t know that my constituents in Pennsylvania are entitled to a popular decision but by god they are entitled to an informed decision …  I am forcing myself to keep on open mind. And remember, the popular decision is not always the correct one. Iraq, we were overreacting to September 11th, not overreacting but inappropriately reacting because Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attack. You have to review the facts and evidence.9/8/2013

What we’re hearing from constituents is, “Don’t do it.” 80% don’t want us to do a strike.

9/9/2013

He couldn’t have picked out a better or more timely example to demonstrate that following public opinion isn’t always wise. But while he took pains to leave that door open, he still set a high bar for the Obama administration to justify bombing Syria, demanding that they not only prove the US will be tangibly better off for having done the bombing and but do so in a way that recognizes the collective deep skepticism of a majority of the public.

What I wanted to see before I’m a “yes” [on bombing Syria] is that it makes America safer to strike than not to strike.9/8/2013

[Public opinion opposing bombing Syria] sets out the burden of proof to the administration. They need to prove without a doubt this is the correct course. … I need [them] to prove not striking is more dangerous to America than going ahead with a strike.

9/9/2013

I won’t agree with Congressman Cartwright if the UN opposes bombing Syria and he supports the US doing it alone anyway, but I’m glad he’s using his role as an undecided member of Congress getting lots of calls for this kind of interview to enrich the public discourse. Cartwright goes right for the heart of the matter in three blunt ways here. If Obama really does pull off what Cartwright is saying he needs to, I would not be surprised to find some people who oppose the US going it alone right now in favor it afterwards. The question is whether or not that’s even possible, or if Obama has already spent his best arguments and will just repeat them in his big prime-time address.

But I know this much for sure: Cartwright’s high standard is exactly what we need when debating going to war.

 

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