Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) hinted on Tuesday that if a resolution authorizing military force against Syria passed with enough votes, he would consider a filibuster. On Wednesday, he reversed those remarks. Paul would be wise to reconsider his retraction.
John McCain's behavior during Wednesday's hearing indicates the votes for military action against President Bashar al-Assad in the Senate are likely pre-destined. The lack of definitive evidence and the wishes of the American people are irrelevant to the 113th Congress's liberal imperialists and conservative militarists. The battle to prevent entrenching America's overburdened military in Syria's gruesome, protracted civil war will head to the House of Representatives.
So what could a filibuster accomplish? Rand Paul is a tactical politician. He grasps that the House, and the American people, need time to organize meaningful resistance. Procedural delays will not stop war resolutions from slipping through the Senate, but the move could buy Americans time to petition their representatives.
Grand gestures of this nature often succeed in wresting control of debates from the limited few. Paul's 13-hour filibuster defending due process accomplished this, capturing global social media attention in the process. Though his intention was to highlight the administration's eerie avoidance of questions regarding its legal authority to use drone strikes against citizens in the U.S., he ignited a firestorm of debate.
#StandwithRand trended quickly, bi-partisan supporters rallied, and senators scrambled out of bed to support the cause. Even the apathetic and the apolitical were talking about Rand Paul's filibuster against executive power. He spoke not just of due process, but used his time to remind Americans the Constitution still exists.
Few issues are popular enough to bridge the ideological divide between the left and the right, and the matter of a new war is one such issue. The American people are largely against striking Syria. Americans were hardly debating Eric Holder's assertions of unlawful executive power the way they debate Syrian intervention. Another meaningful filibuster could prove more popular given the heated discussion preceding the act.
The vote in the House is likely to be close. Unlike the entrenched Senate, the House is more likely to bend their ear to constituents' solicitations. A vigorous public discussion provides the anti-war left, constitutionalists and libertarian-leaning conservatives an opportunity to electrify grass roots organization. John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the pro-war hawks are likely to pressure junior leaders to vote for war. Only public momentum can counter that deep squeeze.
Detractors would accuse Paul of stunting for 2016. Undoubtedly, the senator's popularity could benefit by protesting an unpopular war. A filibuster would provide fodder for critics in exchange for charming his father's skeptical supporters and reluctant independents. This possibility has little to do with Paul himself; the American people desire principled leadership.
At some point, America's leaders must begin the responsible transition from hostile brinkmanship to a Reaganite balance of stern diplomacy and robust military defense. We must accept the world for what it is, apply pressure creatively, and adapt accordingly. We must stop the folly of crafting the Arab landscape in our Western image; we simply can no longer afford it. This does not happen by attacking Syria.
As a matter of duty, Paul should use every tool available to slow a march to disaster. Such an option may not present itself again should "limited intervention" snowball into another disastrous, bloody Middle Eastern conflict.