On Saturday, Obama strode to the podium in the White House rose garden and confidently declared that he had decided the U.S. military should strike Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons. As Commander-in-Chief, Obama said, he had the power to take such action without “specific congressional authorization.”
He laid out the horrifying facts:
Ten days ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in Syria in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century. Yesterday the United States presented a powerful case that the Syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people.
All told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children — young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.
He laid out the national security interests:
This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.
And then he told the nation that, despite having the power as Commander-in-chief to launch the attack without congressional approval, he would first seek permission to strike from Congress. Oh, and that permission would have to wait until Congress returns from recess on September 9th.
That decision was reportedly a last minute about face. The administration had been prepared to exercise the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief under the War Powers Resolution and launch a quick strike against Syria – a “shot across the bow” as Obama termed it. But late Friday night, Obama summoned his aides to the Oval Office and told them he had changed his mind – he would first seek permission from Congress to strike Syria. Despite opposition from his own national security team, Obama pressed forward.
In his rose garden speech, Obama said his decision stemmed from his mindfulness that he is president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy – having Congress debate the matter would make the country stronger. An air strike would be just as effective one day, one week or one month from now, Obama said.
It was a shocking failure of Presidential leadership. And the world is laughing at us.
If anyone thinks Obama’s decision was about anything other than covering his own butt they are kidding themselves. This is nothing more than another attempt by Obama to shift any potential blame away from himself and onto Congress. We elect presidents to make tough decisions, not shift blame as Obama has done repeatedly. Time and time again we have seen Obama sprint away from the presidential standard set by Harry Truman – “the buck stops here.”
Through Obama’s prism of the buck stops anywhere but here, his decision to seek congressional approval makes perfect sense.
If Congress approves, he doesn’t have to launch the airstrikes on his own and if something goes wrong, he can share the blame with Congress.
If Congress does not approve, he can either say his hands are tied or he can launch the airstrikes anyway without congressional approval – which he made clear he has the power to do – and once again brand Congress as obstructionists while he is the only adult in the room willing to take action.
It was a truly breathtaking display of a failure of leadership. Take a few minutes to watch his speech and remember that this is what we get when we elect a man with no leadership experience whatsoever:
Two other important points should be noted here.
First, his decision smacks of hypocrisy.
After years of decrying that Congress has obstructed every move he has tried to make, he decides to seek congressional approval even though it is not necessary to do so? Does that make any sense at all?
His homage to constitutional principles and his empty rhetoric that the country will somehow be stronger from this is laughable. Think about this for a second. He lays our the horrifying facts of Syria’s chemical weapons attack. Then he lays out the national security interests of the United States. Then he says he’s decided we should strike Syria, he has the power to do so without congressional approval, and is prepared to do so. Then he says he will seek Congress’ approval. And then he proceeds to dare Congress not to approve action:
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? 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 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?
We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.
It is really quite simple: he woke up Friday morning realizing his hand was on the trigger and it was his and only his decision whether to pull it. That frightened him and he ran to Congress for cover. Failure. Of. Leadership.
Second, his decision is dangerous. It overturns decades of precedent that the President may launch military action unilaterally without Congressional approval. The War Powers Resolution, of course, requires Congressional authorization for military action lasting more than 60 days. The reason for this is simple. Crises that require quick military action can’t wait for Congress to sit around and debate until the cows come home. But before dragging the country into a drawn out war, Congress must give authorization. Even Clinton understood this and launched airstrikes into Sudan and Afghanistan without congressional approval. The next time this President or any future presidents need to launch a military strike, they will now have to explain why they aren’t seeking congressional approval first.
And the message to our enemies is clear. Syrian media labeled Obama’s decision a “historic American retreat.” Iran and North Korea are watching closely and now realize that a “red line” set by the President doesn’t mean cross it and watch missiles land on your front porch; it means cross it and watch Congress debate over whether the “red line” is red or not, or if it even is a line. Where a credible threat is the best option we have in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons or North Korea from proliferating theirs, the threat must remain credible.
Instead of maintaining American credibility on the world stage, instead of roaming the historic White House hallways wrestling with and making the tough decision that only a President can make, he has done what he always does – pass the buck to Congress.
We elect presidents to make tough decisions, not run for cover every time they are faced with one.
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