President Obama has displayed his skill at strategic thinking on a number of occasions so it is sensible to look at his decisions on retaliatory military action against Syria for using chemical weapons as possibly a “long game”. His reticence against getting involved again in the Middle East in another conflict seems apparent yet he expresses an aggressiveness towards taking action. This has left the question open, “Does he secretly want Congress to refuse support of military action in Syria so he can avoid doing so yet look like he has tried to keep his word on his ‘red line’ warning?”
Despite the arguments in favor of this, President Obama’s actions would seem to indicate that he is earnest in wanting military strikes despite his reluctance.
The theory supporting this proposition is that Pres. Obama is well aware of the dysfunction in Congress, of the inability to get most anything of substance done and the knee-jerk opposition by Republicans to anything he supports. So, when he chose to ask Congress to vote on attacking Syria, he knew full well that at least the Republican-controlled House would block it.
When one consider the timeline of events leading up to his bringing this to a vote in Congress, it doesn’t seem probable that he had intended to do this.
Initially after the chemical attack in Syria, Pres. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke out about the outrageous nature of this attack and the need to respond with punitive force. Pres. Obama began a campaign with the closest allies of the U.S., to bring them on board in supporting and participating in a strike against Syria.
If he had truly opposed such an attack, would pressing U.S. allies to stick their necks out in committing to it make sense? It wasn’t until after the U.K.’s Parliament voted down PM Cameron’s request for the U.K. to ally with the U.S. in an attack that any talk cropped up about Obama having Congress vote on this as well.
The aggressive manner in which Obama, Kerry and others in Obama’s Administration have been pressing for support of this attack also contradicts a desire to avoid an attack.
Pres. Obama has repeatedly supported Presidentially initiated military action during his time in office, in the case of Libya, drone strikes throughout the Middle East and covert operations. While he could not legitimately be compared to the neocons of the Bush Administration, he has proven to be both a supporter of military action when he sees it as justified and Presidential power to order military action without the need for Congressional sanction.
With the world, Congressional and U.S. public opinion opposing his stated desire to take action against Syria, Pres. Obama found himself in a tight spot if he was going to proceed on his own. If Pres. Obama went ahead on his own and ordered military attacks, he would essentially be all alone and solely responsible for whatever happened in Syria or spilled over in the Middle East due to the attack. Politically, that would have been a massively dangerous position to be in. If the American people didn’t support him and anything went wrong, the Republicans who would attack him no matter what would be hugely energized to attack him. And with the chatter of impeachment floating around the GOP recently with no legitimate justification, taking a highly opposed action like this which is disputed as being constitutional or allowed under The War Powers Act, would have looked like political Russian Roulette (with the Russians happily supplying the weapon as they do).
The decision to bring the vote to Congress on attacking Syria seemed to be forced upon Obama in light of the lack of international support and our closest ally going down such a path and being rejected. When we see another country exemplifying their democracy by having a debate and a vote on such an explosive issue, it becomes difficult for an American President to make such a decision in a unilateral, undemocratic way and without substantial political debate.
Sec. Kerry has acted on behalf of the Obama Admin to push hard on getting Congress to approve an attack. The Obama Admin has already won votes in the Senate in support of military action and for a while, it seemed like a good possibility that The House could also approve. Then, Obama would have no choice to proceed.
For all of these reasons, the principle of Occam’s Razor would make sense. The simplest answer is the most probable. Pres. Obama does want to take action in Syria and is fighting to get Congress and the world to support it. If he loses this fight, the banter about this damaging his Presidency seems overblown. No President gets everything they want to happen and especially in such a difficult situation as this with the post-Iraq baggage that justifiably is in place.
What is most interesting is that despite his instincts and opinion, Pres. Obama could be saved from making a very bad decision thanks to the Tea Party-controlled GOP. It is hard for the most powerful nation in the world to stand by while international laws and the Geneva Convention are flouted and innocent people are murdered in mass killings. So, to have said, “None of our business,” from the start would have looked cold, terrible and weak. Obama’s reaction was just what we would expect from any President.
However, if he is blocked from following through on his decision to attack Syria, he may take a number of shots from the Right for failing but where it would leave him, the U.S., Syria and the world could be better.
A bottom line problem with Obama being authorized with attacking Syria is that the first video we’ll see from the Syrians will be of the innocent women and children killed as “collateral damage” by the American attack. At that point, we would lose whatever moral high ground we believe we had to attack and Syrians would be driven to rally with Assad and against the invading child murderers, the United States.
We can’t protect innocent people by killing some of them, that approach may have been American policy in the past but it doesn’t work at this point in time. President Obama was following the tradition of modern day Presidents in pursuing this action but as has been the case in a few other instances like gay marriage, deporting illegal immigrants and pursuing pot busts, Obama seems to be caught a bit behind the curve of where the American people are today.
If the House kills this resolution as they seem likely to (and as they have with most any legislation that’s put in front of them) and as long as Obama doesn’t order an attack despite the lack of Congressional approval (unless the UN miraculously votes for it), responsibility for further atrocities in Syria will lay at the feet of Congress, Republicans will have taken that responsibility away from Obama out of spite and may obliviously help the man they most despise from damaging his presidency and legacy.