President Obama’s decision to ask for congressional approval for any American military involvement in Syria is the right thing to do.
One article called it a “history-defying decision to seek Congressional approval” and “the most important presidential act on the Constitution and war-making powers since Harry Truman.” However, that article also noted that, “No American lives are in danger and the national security threat is hard to identify.”
The mistake of that article is that Presidents usually do get Congressional ‘approval’ to use forces; what they’ve lacked has been a formal Congressional declaration of war. President Obama hasn’t asked for that, so it isn’t a history-defying decision to merely ask for Congressional authorization to use forces. That is the exact thing President Bush had for Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressional authorization to use forces isn’t a bold new step. It’s a new step for President Obama perhaps, but not his predecessors. The bold step would’ve been to get a full declaration of war, and no one is asking for that.
Following the President’s letter to Congress asking for authorization, “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary,” basically a blank check, Congressional Republicans put out a statement saying, “We are glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised. In consultation with the president, we expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th. This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”
On Sunday morning, the President spoke outside the White House, “I'm confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”
Meanwhile, the left-leaning blog Huffington Post stated:
This week, the White House sought to thrust the nation into military action in the Middle East, claiming that its "high confidence" in our intelligence obviated the need to allow U.N. inspectors to complete their work. Sound familiar? It's like a bad summer sequel, with many of the same actors. But like the original, there are many holes in the plot. If "there is no action," the president proclaimed, "that is a danger to our national security." But he didn't say how. Also unexplained: What happens after we strike? Since the decision has been made not to take out Assad, how exactly are we "holding him accountable"? By killing innocent people who had nothing to do with the attack? That actually does affect our security. This time, however, the Coalition of the Unwilling -- one that goes beyond left vs. right -- is much larger. Urging action, John Kerry cautioned: "It is directly related to our credibility." On that he is 100 percent right.
The fact is that President Obama doesn’t care whether Congress approves or rejects military involvement in Syria. In his rose garden address, the President himself said, “I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.” Why is he petitioning Congress in the first place? It’s not out of respect for the Constitution, because he clearly said he doesn’t think he needs Congressional approval – that’s just a silly formality. He certainly didn’t seek Congressional approval when he decided to bomb Libya.
Just as President Bush had decided to invade Iraq, before attaining Congressional approval, so has President Obama.
“I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”
Again, why petition Congress? He said he’s already decided to attack Syria, ( “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets”) and he doesn’t think he needs Congressional approval anyway (“I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization”), he doesn’t care whether the United Nations has affirmed that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons (“I'm confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors”), he doesn’t care whether the U.N. approves military action in Syria (“ I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council”)
The only reason Obama is seeking Congressional approval is so that they would share responsibility, or blame, for however the intervention turns out. Whether it is cruise missile bombings, low-level flights, drone strikes, or something more, the President would be able to point the finger back at Congress. If things go well, no American lives are lost, and Assad is removed, Obama will consider his decision to be the turning point that made it all happen. If Congress rejects Syrian involvement, Obama could say he tried his best to punish the Syrian regime and uphold his “red line” comment, but Congressional obstructionism got in the way. Then again, he could still bomb Syria even if Congress tells him not to, because he’s already expressed he doesn’t think he needs their approval.
The President said, “This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons.”
A military axiom is that wars begin when you choose, but they do not end when you wish. Certainly Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy didn’t intend for the Vietnam War to go on as it did. Certainly George W. Bush didn’t anticipate the insurgency in Iraq following the removal of Saddam Hussein. President Obama is making the same mistake. It won’t be open-ended (but he’s asked for a blank check), he won’t put boots on the ground (although he can’t foresee what might happen), our action would be limited in duration and scope (although he hasn’t set a timetable). All of this, and we’ll still make Assad pay for his crimes. Again, how?
What if the Syrian military is stronger than he anticipated? What if Russia flies to Syria’s aid, much as we aided Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded there? What if the President only wants us to bomb Syria for five days, and on day three, an F-16 pilot gets shot down and captured? We can’t negotiate with the Syrian regime, so will the President leave the pilot alone to be tortured? And how does “not putting boots on the ground” really differ from putting a pilot in Syrian airspace? Is it not a violation of that nation’s sovereignty, a hostile action, and an act of war? More than that, what about Syrian retaliation? What if they move against Israel in retaliation? What if the Syrian civilians see the United States less as liberators, and more as imperialists, especially when one of our attacks against the regime inadvertently kills dozens of civilians?
All in all, the President is right to ask for Congressional approval to use military forces in Syria. He is, however, naïve in assuring himself that it’d be a limited involvement that’ll have such wondrous results He is brushing off the United Kingdom’s decision not to take part, and is shrugging off the results of any United Nations inspections and going on his own intelligence reports. He cannot definitively prove whether the Syrian rebels or the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, or else he’d present the evidence. He has already decided to bomb Syria, so his decision to consult Congress is more of an afterthought to cover his rear, not something that is done out of respect for his constitutionally limited powers. He is also not setting a clear purpose or even a mission in bombing Syria, because he’s ruled out boots on the ground and has denied that removing the Syrian leader is even a goal. He is asking for a blank check and promises to cash it in with only a limited response. Why the blank check, then? Why not ask for limited war powers, since he only wants a limited involvement? And why ask for it when he doesn’t think he needs it?
He is not taking into account whether an American pilot gets shot down and captured, and the necessary escalation that would result in. He is not considering possible reactions from Russia, China, or Iran, which could get us involved in a much deeper war than launching a few missiles at a civil war-torn country. He is not anticipating any Syrian retaliation to a United States attack, and whether they move against Israel in response. He cannot foresee whether the United States will be seen as liberators or imperialists, and whether U.S. strikes may actually unify Syrians against American interference. He is not considering what’ll happen after the strikes on Syria, and has left the door open for Assad to remain in power.
All the President wants is to back up his “red line” comment, get a blank check from Congress, and cash it in by lobbing a few missiles into Syria. Other than that, he has no solution to what’s happening in Syria. His only interest is to cover his rear, and have Congress to blame for it. For that, Congress should reject any military involvement in Syria. If the President really considers Syria a grave threat, he should take a much bolder step, and that would be asking for a formal declaration of war. But we should not intervene in a civil war simply to protect the President’s reputation, and he should especially not do so unilaterally – without Congressional approval, without Great Britain, and without the U.N.