Steve Rose

Syria vote is an important one for U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder

Updated: 2013-09-07T22:10:28Z


Special to The Star

How can an ultra-liberal Democrat in the U.S. Congress agree with one of its ultra-conservative Republicans?

Ask Emanuel Cleaver from Kansas City. Then ask the congressman from Johnson County, Kevin Yoder.

Neighbors though they are, the two have virtually nothing in common politically, except this: Both are opposed — at least for now — to the United States firing missiles into Syria.

Rep. Cleaver’s position is predictable. He is a man of peace, and there are few wars he would ever vote to wage. And his constituents are likely to agree. His is a solid no vote, although he left one opening: if he receives “privileged information, that he does not already know,” he said he could change his mind. That’s highly unlikely.

Yoder, too, has come out swinging. He has publicly said he is opposed to such an attack but then left himself an exit hatch. He said he would listen to his constituents and looks forward to the debate in Congress. It would be premature to try to nail down Yoder for certain on this issue.

None of this should even be happening. If our president had exercised true leadership in the first place, he would have ordered a missile attack on Syria 72 hours after verifying that chemical weapons were used to kill 1,400 innocent victims.

President Barack Obama drew a red line in the sand all right, but it turned out to be pink. His threats were emboldened but his actions demure.

Oh, Harry Truman, where are you now? Harry never would have punted to Congress, who then would have punted to their constituents. No, give-em-hell Harry would have followed through with his threats, and he would have done what he thought was right, and not worried about what the polls said.

He would have listened to advice, sure. But in the end, he would have followed his own instincts.

But Barack is not Harry, so here we are.

What will matter — what will determine whether the United States stands firm — is what congressmen like Yoder have decided.

The key swing vote in Congress will be how Republicans vote in the House.

Yoder personifies the dilemma of many Republicans.

If he is like most Republicans, Yoder is more hawk than dove. So, it would seem only logical that Yoder would cast a yes vote for defending the United States and its global interests. In this case, it means stepping up as the only power great enough to put a stop to chemical warfare.

But many Republicans have themselves become isolationists, and others are merely loath to go along with their archenemy, Obama.

And many will listen to their most vocal constituents.

It seems likely that Yoder’s district is as war fatigued as any other and that isolationism is the reaction to our long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the people Yoder represents have recoiled and withdrawn.

The congressman will likely hear more from these anti-war constituents.

They will speak up more loudly at town hall meetings, email more, send letters more and call him more.

It, therefore, would be easy for Yoder to proclaim he has listened to his constituents, and they have told him to vote no, and so he shall.

But Yoder must also listen to his own voice. Leaders oftentimes go against the prevailing winds, if they think they are taking the right path.

There may be no more important vote for Yoder than the one he is about to make. The stakes are so high because this nation must follow through when we have drawn a line in the sand and because we must stop the use of chemical weapons. Those are reasons enough to wage a brief but powerful attack, despite war fatigue.

Pray that the congressman from the Kansas 3rd District will be courageous, demonstrate his best judgment and follow his own instincts.

If he does, Yoder hopefully will come to the conclusion that Bashar Assad of Syria should pay a hefty price for unleashing horrific chemical weapons on his own people.

Because the president has buckled, give ’em hell, Kevin.

To reach Steve Rose, a longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to

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