WASHINGTON -- Though a hypothetical military intervention in Syria is as popular with the American public as the prospect of a colonoscopy while listening to Nickelback, the man tasked with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives in 2014 insists it won't have a major effect on his job.
"2014 is not going to be a referendum on Syria," Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Tuesday. "Syria will not be the subject of a referendum in 2014."
"It is just so fluid right now," he said, referencing a recent proposal by the Russian government to lead an international effort to monitor Syria's chemical weapons cache. "If the Russia deal is a real deal, I think this evaporates very quickly. I can't imagine voters waking up in one year and two months and saying, 'I'm going to cast my vote based on Syria.' Even if the Russia deal is not a real deal -- there is no meat on the bones and there is some strike on Syria -- if the resolution is what we want it to be, if the strike is swift, in and out, focused on degrading and deterring the chemical weapons capability, I just don't think that many people are going to be thinking in November 2014 about the debate on a very limited military operation in 2013."
Israel, a self-described hawkish Democrat, said that he was personally inclined to support a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force, provided that it was tailored to ensure that U.S. troops aren't actually deployed in Syria. But he was also open to the latest diplomatic entrée, with some healthy skepticism as to whether it was real or would work. As for other members of the caucus, he urged them to vote their conscience and not for the benefit of the administration.
"This shouldn't be about supporting the president," he said. "This should be about, 'does this fulfill your values and priorities, does this fulfill what you are hearing, what is happening in your district? does this fulfill the policy priorities that you have on national security?' Those should be the criteria, not 'does it help or hurt the president?' That should be taken off the table."
The president desperately needs Democrats to join him, should a resolution end up being brought up for a vote in the House. As it stands now, he is getting minimal support from Republicans, while members of his own party have aired skepticism about the efficacy, cost and purpose of a military strike.
Israel is not one of them. Though speaking as a House member and not as the DCCC head, he said he had urged the administration to explore the idea of a diplomatic solution during a meeting at the White House on Monday.
"It is clear that the credible use of force persuaded Russia to try and find the path. Now we have to see that that path is credible. I hope it is," he said. "They need to vet this out, engage the Russians and our other international partners robustly and rapidly. And if this is a credible diplomatic alternative, take it. If it is a subterfuge, stay away from it.”