Obama Ought To Listen To Himself

by Patrick Appel

Jack Goldsmith asks why Obama doesn’t get Congressional approval to attack Syria:

Why is President Obama going to act unilaterally?  Why doesn’t the man who pledged never to use force without congressional authorization except in self-defense call Congress into session to debate and authorize the use of force in Syria?  Why doesn’t he heed his own counsel that “[h]istory has shown us time and again . . . that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch,” and that it is “always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action”?  Why is he instead rushing to use force in a way that will set a novel constitutional precedent for presidential unilateralism that will far outlive his presidency?

Since U.S. intervention in Syria portends many foreseeably bad consequences, and because there is so little support in the nation for this intervention, why not get Congress on board – not just to legitimate the action, but also to spread political risk?  Why exacerbate the growing perception – justified or not – of a presidency indifferent to legal constraints?  Why not follow the example of George H.W. Bush, who sought and received congressional authorization for the 1991 invasion of Iraq, or George W. Bush, who did the same for the 2003 invasion of Iraq?  Or to take an example more on point, why not follow David Cameron, who (embarrassingly for the President) recently called Parliament into session to debate and legitimate Britain’s planned involvement?

Fallows is on the same page:

Even if Obama has already made up his mind to launch a strike, and even if that operation goes perfectly, something about it will go wrong. Messages will get blurred and bungled; the fog of war will interfere; innocents will be killed. How many people planning the bomb-Serbia campaign in 1999 imagined that it would create a crisis between the U.S. and China, because of the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade?

Obama can’t know what exactly will happen if he launches a strike. But he should know, for sure, that even the cleanest intervention will bring mistakes, tragedies, and eventual blame. Therefore it should be 100% in his interest to share responsibility for the decision before it is solely his.