For much of the past week, Congress has grown louder and louder with calls that President Barack Obama go through them for any authorization of military action in Syria.
On Saturday, Obama gave them their wish.
Congress is now the “dog that caught the car,” tweeted former senior White House adviser and chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod.
Obama blinked, but he blinked with a dare. He is daring Congress to say no to limited action against a dictator for the brutal use of chemical weapons against his own people — an attack that the U.S. says killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.
“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” Obama said in a statement from the Rose Garden Saturday.
“What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 per cent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?”
In taking this move, Obama answered the waning enthusiasm from the American public and his allies overseas for intervention. He answered the calls from more than 100 members of Congress who sent him a letter saying he needed their approval. And he answered the American public, 80% of whom want congressional approval.
The move satisfied both sides of the aisle. It satisfied Republicans, who praised him for his decision while asserting the authority to declare war lies with Congress. GOP senators as ideologically different as the hawks John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and the libertarian Rand Paul (R-Ky.) applauded Obama’s move to include Congress.
“Smart politically to get Congress buy in,” Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff to Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, told Business Insider.
It also satisfied liberals, who spent countless breaths charging that President George W. Bush had abused his executive authority while in office.
Said Adam Green, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder: “It’s great news that President Obama is seeking congressional approval for military action, an important precedent for all future presidents. After years of societal and international norms being thrown out the door — and things like torture, violations of civil liberties, and war becoming normalized — today’s announcement is an important down payment on proper norms and regular order being restored.”
O speech brilliant both politically and constitutionally.
— Howard Dean (@GovHowardDean) August 31, 2013
There are still plenty of risks in Obama’s move. For one, despite Obama’s assertion that military intervention would result in the same effectiveness a week or a month from now, it obviously gives the Syrian government and the Assad regime more time to prepare.
For another, he will spend a good part of the next two weeks selling military intervention not only to Congress, and not only to the American people — but to the international community in general. Obama will travel overseas next week to Sweden and to Russia for the G20 summit.
If he doesn’t deliver on a vote, he will get blamed. Congress, too, will be blamed. It’s a risk, considering it blew up in the face of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron last week.
But ultimately, the selling of military intervention will follow the conversation Obama has tried to foster so far: In 2013, can the international norm of not killing massive amounts of innocent citizens be violated without consequence?
“He won’t get a redux of U.K.,” Urbahn said. “But [it] gives Assad more time to prepare. Even less element of surprise.”
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