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Final impressions of the Syria hearing

If the three witnesses were the Marx Brothers, John Kerry would be Groucho (they are both world class scenery chewers), Gen. Dempsey would be Chico, and Chuck Hagel (who barely spoke) would be Harpo. As the silent partner, Hagel has found his highest and best use.

In fairness to Kerry, he presented a forceful case, and made plenty of good points. It’s possible, however, that his at times strident and domineering performance may have turned off some Senators. At a minimum, I question whether he won over any undecided members.

It looks to me as if half of the Committee’s 18 members are ready to vote “yes,” while 5 members look like certain or probable “no” votes. The remainder seem undecided.

It appears, then, that the Committee will vote “yes” to a resolution that makes it clear there is no authorization to put “boots on the ground.” I imagine that the Senate as a whole will do likewise. The House is another matter.

Although Kerry overstated the point, I agree that “doing nothing” will make future chemical attacks by Assad on innocent people considerably more likely than if we strike his assets forcefully. I also agree that a forceful attack could turn the momentum in the civil war against Assad or at least halt his increased momentum.

Though less sanguine than John McCain about the “moderation” of the overall opposition to Assad, Kerry is nonetheless too sanguine. But halting Assad’s momentum doesn’t guarantee victory for the rebels, and certainly not for the extremists among them. More likely, it would facilitate some sort of settlement.

And if the rebels do prevail, that outcome is likely (though not certain) to be preferable to a victory for Assad and his Iranian backers.

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