Obama Asks Congress For A New War: Reax

by Patrick Appel

Obama’s Saturday speech declaring his intention to attack Syria and to request Congressional approval beforehand:

Amy Davidson applauds Obama’s decision to get Congress’s input before attacking Syria:

This may be the first sensible step that Obama has taken in the Syrian crisis, and may prove to be one of the better ones of his Presidency—even if he loses the vote, as could happen. Politically, he may have just saved his second term from being consumed by Benghazi-like recriminations and spared himself Congressional mendacity about what they all might have done.

Fallows is also happy that Congress will get its say:

This is the kind of deliberation, and deliberateness, plus finding ways to get out of a (self-created) corner, that has characterized the best of his decisions. It is a very welcome change, and surprise, from what leaks had implied over the past two weeks.

Larison hopes that Congress will vote against using force:

Presumably, Obama is gambling that he can cow Congress into granting authorization by having publicly committed the U.S. to military action. When presidents have gone to Congress to seek this kind of authorization, they have typically received it and usually by a large margin. I am cautiously hopeful that there are enough members in the House at least that know how deeply unpopular war with Syria is that this will not be the case this time, but I fear that few Democrats will be willing to vote against the White House and too many Republicans will be only too happy to vote yes. If members of Congress judge the proposed attack in terms of U.S. interests or international law, they should definitely reject it. If they judge it in terms of bogus “credibility” arguments or an obsession with wounding Iran, I am less sure that most of them will vote no.

Barro believes that the House might reject Obama’s request for intervention:

Democrats: In the current political environment, they have little reason to think voting against an attack will make them look “soft on terror,” which is what they were most afraid of during the Iraq authorization vote 10 years ago. But they have good reason to fear the Hillary example: voting yes could cost them a primary election if things go wrong.

Republicans: War hawks are a far weaker force in GOP politics than they were 10 years ago. You don’t have to be Ron Paul to defend a skeptical position on intervention anymore. And it’s not that hard to make a case to a Republican primary electorate for why you opposed one of Barack Obama’s initiatives.

Julia Ioffe notes that Obama isn’t rushing the vote:

Obama has clearly learned something from Cameron’s blunder: he’s not rushing this thing. Cameron was dealing with an incomplete Parliament, as some MPs just didn’t bother to come back for the vote. He didn’t spend the time laying out his case, lobbying and whipping the vote in to shape. Obama, by contrast, is not summoning Congress back early. He’s scheduled a second briefing with lawmakers, and there have been reports that he is already personally lobbying the people in his party, like Carl Levin, who have been skeptical of intervention in Syria.

Fisher worries about the delay:

The U.S. Congress is not known for its speed with urgent issues – particularly ones that come during their vacation. It is also not an institution known for compromise or cooperation on issues that are, like this one, daunting, difficult and that have few political upsides. Whether or not you think that off-shore strikes are a good idea, this adds more delays and uncertainty after a week of both. It increases the likelihood, probably already significant, that the Assad regime will see the international community as unable or unwilling to hold him accountable. If strikes are likely to happen anyway, the uncertainty is not good for Syria. And if they don’t happen, Syria would have likely been better off if the U.S. had never signaled otherwise in the first place.

David Rothkopf has similar fears:

If the administration persuades Congress to support military action, it will be seen as a victory for the president, to be sure. But it may also have given the Assad regime another two or three weeks to redeploy assets and hunker down — so that the kind of limited attack currently envisioned has even more limited consequences.

Jack Goldsmith differs:

I am still unconvinced that military action in Syria is a good idea.  And there will be those who complain that the President’s request to Congress harms presidential power, or hurts our tactical position vis a vis Syria (because of the delay, etc.), or reflects poor planning, and the like.

The President is indeed still in a pickle.  But in light of the constitutional questions, the lack of obvious support in the nation and Congress, and the risks of sparking a broader conflict in the Middle East, and for the other reasons I stated in my post last week, it would have been terrible for the President and the nation if he had engaged in strikes in Syria without seeking congressional approval.

Michael Scherer and Zeke Miller report that Obama may ignore Congress’s decision:

Obama’s aides made clear that the President’s search for affirmation from Congress would not be binding. He might still attack Syria even if Congress issues a rejection.

Greenwald pounces:

It’s certainly preferable to have the president seek Congressional approval than not seek it before involving the US in yet another Middle East war of choice, but that’s only true if the vote is deemed to be something more than an empty, symbolic ritual. To declare ahead of time that the debate the President has invited and the Congressional vote he sought are nothing more than non-binding gestures – they will matter only if the outcome is what the President wants it to be – is to display a fairly strong contempt for both democracy and the Constitution.

Drum doubts that Obama would defy the will of Congress:

As for whether or not Obama will go ahead with an attack even if Congress rejects it, I can hardly imagine he would. Am I wrong about that? Is there even the slightest chance he’d go ahead even if Congress votes against it?

Judis is concerned about Congress voting against action:

If he loses, and unlike Cameron, goes ahead anyway, he will increase his troubles at home. Cries of imperial presidency will be heard. But equally important, the military action he undertakes will have less intentional force behind it. One reason why a military strike could deter Syria’s Bashar al Assad from further use of chemical weapons, and perhaps even contribute to a negotiated settlement, is that Assad would have to fear that if he were to escalate in response to the American action, the United States would escalate in kind. But if Obama appears embattled at home, and barely able to act, that threat will not be as credible, and the American action may be less likely to accomplish its objective of deterring Assad.

And Bruce Riedel feels that the “President’s decision to ask for a Congressional mandate should also serve as a precedent for any decision to use force against Iran to halt its nuclear weapons project”:

A war with Iran would be vastly more dangerous and costly than one with Syria, even if both are intended to be limited. Wars always have unintended consequences. If time permits, the people’s representatives should be part of the decision to take on the risks of action. President George H.W. Bush did that before the liberation of Kuwait. As a senior intelligence officer, I spent days explaining the CIA’s estimates of the risks to the Congress. The process sharpened our analysis. There are no good options in Syria. Sliding into the conflict by baby steps and partial measures is the worst approach. Even worse would be to do so without a national debate and Congressional action.