Burning question of the day: What led President Obama to go to Congress to ask for authorization to take action on Syria? Why did he not, as both he (with Libya) and former presidents had done, simply not exert his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and order a military strike on Assad and his regime? Why create another layer of complexity and source for criticism on what was already a sensitive issue?
President Obama could have acted out on his own and bypassed Congress altogether. He did not. Why?
One possible reason is that Obama, like most Americans, was not interested in military action of any kind – in the Middle East or anywhere else on the planet. He was also aware that Congress, in all of its obstructionist ‘wisdom’, would most likely refuse to grant him authorization.
a) Obama avoids an unwanted war in the Middle East.
b) He gets to keep (sort of) his tough guy image.
c) Congress gets the blame.
Smart politics but here’s another possible explanation. What if President Obama really does believe that something has to be done in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. By taking the matter to Congress he is getting political cover in the event that a military strike does not go as planned. In addition, by doing so, Obama is creating further division in an already fractured Republican party where a civil war has been brewing for years. Asking Congress to authorize military action in the Middle East could only further inflame tension between the ridiculously insane Tea Party caucus and John McCain’s neocon wing of warmongers. And let’s not leave out the fact that many Republicans who would normally jump at any reason to go to war are now more reluctant to do so given that they’ll have to declare publicly that they are on the same side of an issue as the Socialist/Muslim-in-chief. Obama is forcing them to declare a position.
As plausible as the above are for explaining the thinking behind Obama’s gambit, there’s yet another…and the one I favor. This one comes compliments of David Corn.
During the 2008 campaign, he [Obama] declared, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
In Libya, Obama did not act in sync with his campaign statement. But in that instance, past and present Obama aides have contended, the president had only two days or so to mount a strike (with European and Arab allies) to prevent a possible slaughter of Libyan civilians. So Obama sidestepped his previously held view, put that particular principle on hold—and took the hit.
This time around, as Obama has pointed out, he does not have to move quickly to thwart an imminent threat. Consequently, he has had the chance to proceed according to constitutional rules (as he sees them). “I think it was pretty clear to him,” says a former senior White House official, “that if he blew past Congress this time, that would be it.” That is, the idea of joint executive-legislative responsibility for war would be trampled so far into the ground it could remain buried for years to come.
Whatever the reason for Obama’s move, there’s a bigger question that needs addressing. What does Obama do should Congress refuse to grant him the authorization he seeks?
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