The UK's Parliament sessions generally make for good TV entertainment. They're essentially one step of passion behind being the political version of the increasingly popular telenovelas ... all the emotion, but with the unfortunate (for entertainment purposes, anyway) British decorum that discourages a televised all-out physical slapfest.
However, on Thursday, August 29, they shined. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was inclined, in apparent support of President Barack Obama, to plunge his country's armed forces into a military intervention in Syria, in response to the use of chemical weapons of the seemingly eternal President Bashar al-Assad against his own people. However, Cameron took a step back, and asked the UK Parliament to convene a special session to debate it.
And debate it they did. Thoroughly, respectfully. It was almost refreshing to see two political sides sharing, openly, polls showing how their respective constituents felt about armed conflict in Syria. They agreed, disagreed, but they were all business.
In the end, they voted against intervention. Although their vote was non-binding. PM Cameron was stuck with an interesting dilemma: go against his legislators and decide unilaterally to strike, or go with them (and the apparent will of the citizens) and not strike. He has chosen the latter: go with Parliament, and not strike.
The parallels with President Barack Obama are undeniable here. Despite his protestations as a US Senator that no president should ever unilaterally involve US armed forces in military conflicts, he has already expressed his willingness to move forward with military action without consulting Congress. An interesting position, given he as a Senator deemed it unconstitutional, and the ever irrepressible Vice President Biden, while Senator, went further by stating that any president doing so should be impeached.
Like the British people, Americans don't want to go into Syria, especially if American lives are risked. And unlike recent previous American interventions, in which the president had a willing Congress and a large host of other nations in coalition, this problem is now Obama's Syria problem. Our closest allies have rejected military intervention. And because of Obama's famed "red line" he drew, it's now all on his head. If he consults Congress and they decide against Syrian conflict, Obama's "red line" becomes a joke. If he doesn't consult Congress and does what he promised when he did draw his "red line," he's risks being deemed an international pariah as both a hypocrite and a warmonger. And if he modifies the military intervention, he will be criticized, as he has so frequently of late, for failing the leadership test of action consistent with a specified, articulated mission.
Unlike David Cameron, President Obama has shown no indication he's interested in how Congress feels about a Syrian intervention. Sure, he wants them to agree with him. But to ask them to reconvene, cast votes, then for Obama to abide by their vote? As of this writing, it's not happening.
So, if President Obama unilaterally plunges America into a military conflict with Syria, these will be the economic consequences:
- Oil Prices. Syria is not a major player in oil, but their unpredictable response to our intervention may cause them to lash out at their neighbors. The only thing more volatile than actual oil prices is speculation by so-called oil experts. Speculation will drive oil prices up, and we'll pay at the pump.
- Stock Market. It has already dropped because of the speculation. As a general rule, any uncertainty that COULD negatively affect stock prices WILL.
- Jobs. The biggest effect on the job market will, again, be speculation ... employers concerned about how another war will affect their ability to budget/plan revenues and related marketing strategies. Employers faced with ANYTHING unpredictable like that will simply not hire until it becomes more predictable. Unemployment has been stuck at close to the same level it was when Obama succeeded George W. Bush in January 2009: 7.4%-7.5%. This figure will either not move, or will actually go up.
Parenthetically, Obama will find it almost impossible to engage in his predilection to blame Bush or Republicans for scores of problems still affecting the American economy. This problem, Obama's Syria problem, is uniquely his.
EDITOR UPDATE 1 - 1:45 PM CST: President Obama has now decided to ask Congress to debate the issue. He still reserves his claimed right to act unilaterally, however.
EDITOR UPDATE 2 - 10:00 AM CST Sept. 1: President Obama has now deemed that the Syrian military strike decision can wait until Congress returns from vacation September 9. Your humble correspondent doesn't make this stuff up. This is a stunning reversal from the extreme urgency of the last 2 days, and the Obama Administration offers no explanation for it, except that he now believes he should have Congressional approval. Why he isn't forcing Congress to convene, as David Cameron did with his Parliament, we can't say.