President Obama has come to a decision on the use of force in Syria. While it may not be altogether clear yet how this change of heart (or mind, rather) came about – aside from Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people – nevertheless he has now made bombing the Syrian regime a political pawn with the US Congress.
Constitutionally, the President is required to gain authorization from Congress before engaging in conflict. The War Powers Act of 1974 waives that responsibility in matters of supreme threat to US interest and security for a short period, though the Commander in Chief must still inform Congress of his decision in a timely manner. Already during his time in office, Obama has taken both routes (although Congress rejected him on Libya, which was decidedly ignored and which Congress continues to grumble about).
So the press yammering about Obama’s constitutional responsibility to secure a vote from Congress are overlooking his past record and the text of the War Powers Act. That said, there is a good deal of confusion over the War Powers Act in this case, so perhaps the yammering can continue in good faith.
In another view, the public celebration over Obama’s decision to consult Congress may simply be a sad telling of the current state of political affairs. However, Obama’s previous reluctance to go to Congress cannot really be blamed too harshly. After all, 112th was the do-nothingest Congress ever and the 113th isn’t much better.
But back to Syria.
International Crisis Group issued its own statement following the President’s remarks, which draw attention to a critical point: US reasons for military strike against the Syrian regime are “largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.” This is a political move to restore the credibility of the United States.
The White House submitted a draft of its proposed non-binding Syria legislation to Congress and media outlets just after the announcement. Perhaps more emphasis should be made on the recent denial of Prime Minister Cameron’s request to Parliament for the use of British military force. France is now rushing to parliament to secure its approval as well. In the interim, ICG is right to draw attention to the Syrian people. Their practical needs deserve some serious consideration and general facetime amidst this political jumble.