Congress is engaged in a great debate over whether to grant President Obama authority to launch a military strike against Syria as punishment for its government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.
This debate, still in its preliminary stages as Congress has just returned today from its summer recess, is an important one. It involves the scope of presidential powers, the wisdom of casting the United States in the role of “world policeman,” as well as the risk of the conflict expanding beyond Syria and engulfing the entire Middle East. Our allies have largely abandoned us. We are on our own.
It is a time for reasoned argument and impassioned debate, a time for legislators to consider the will of their constituents and their own consciences and to speak their minds freely and openly. Now especially, it is a time our representatives must act in what they believe is the best interest of the country.
But when the first call came to stand up and be counted, our newly minted Sen. Ed Markey huddled in the corner and mumbled “present.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday voted 10-7 to authorize President Obama to use military force against Syria, in the words of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., “to change the military equation on the battlefield.”
The resolution would limit military action to 60 to 90 days and confine it within the borders of Syria. No U.S. ground forces would be permitted in the country. The resolution now moves to consideration by the full Senate.
The vote was bipartisan. McCain and fellow Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona voted with seven Democrats — including Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — in favor of the resolution. Two Democrats and five Republicans were opposed.
Only Markey, elected in June to finish out the term of former Sen. John Kerry, failed to express his opinion on the matter. It was an appalling display of political cowardice and an abject failure to represent the interests of the people of Massachusetts.
Markey not only let down Bay State citizens, the longtime congressman from Malden also turned himself and the state into a national political laughingstock.
“So Ed Markey spent 37 years waiting to get to the Senate to confront a major issue and vote ... present,” tweeted Steve Kornacki, a political writer for Salon.
“Markey votes present ... embarrassing, at least have the fortitude and courage to vote yes or no. Not a time to dither,” tweeted Gabriel Gomez, the Republican businessman Markey defeated in the special election.
Markey tried to explain himself in a statement and in comments to the Boston Globe. Markey said he was concerned about some details of the resolution and worried that use of force could entangle U.S. troops in the Syrian civil war.
Fine. If that’s the case, stand up against the president and vote “no” on the resolution. In any event, Markey’s spineless “present” suggests he doesn’t understand the committee was not voting to let the missiles fly but merely to send the matter on to the full Senate for debate.
Massachusetts voters deserve better than this. They deserve representatives in the House and Senate who are unafraid to speak their minds.