White House: Syria intervention authorization from Congress? That’s so 2013

posted at 12:01 pm on August 25, 2014 by Noah Rothman

The political press can sometimes struggle with a collectively short memory.

Recall that it was just under a year ago when the nation was engaged in a bitter debate over whether President Barack Obama should get to work imposing consequences on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for violating his “red line” prohibiting the use of chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.

The president had declared the norm-violating use of weapons of mass destruction on civilian and military targets a trigger for military action in the summer of 2012, but he was flagrantly ignored by Damascus. While it may have been necessary, going to war in Syria in order to preserve the international prohibition on the use of WMD in wartime was also deeply unpopular.

Just one day before Obama delivered a prime time address to the nation, ostensibly aimed at shoring up support for the mission in Syria, a Pew Research Center poll showed only 28 percent of the public supported airstrikes. A majority, 63 percent, opposed them with 45 percent saying they were strongly opposed to military action in Syria. It was bipartisan public opposition to intervention in Syria which prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to insist that airstrikes against Assad’s forces would be “unbelievably small.” You’d hardly notice them, he assured the public. They just wouldn’t listen.

When Moscow proposed a deal which would allow their client in Damascus to remain in power but would also relieve him of his chemical weapons stockpile, the administration was initially skeptical. “He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting,” Kerry told reporters in London in September of last year. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

Ultimately, Kerry would be proven correct. Syria did consent to surrendering its stockpiles of declared chemical weapons, but the WMD attacks on civilians using “undeclared” agents like chlorine gas continue to this day. No matter, the Obama administration reasoned. The public was firmly against going to war over philosophical matters like the violation of the norm barring the battlefield use of chemical weapons. Obama took the off-ramp provided by Russia.

But the president was already pursuing another means of extricating himself from his own obligation to impose consequences on Assad: The will of the people as evinced by the votes of their representatives in Congress. In late August, Obama demanded a vote from Congress authorizing an attack on Syria which would address “a serious danger to our national security” and “an assault on human dignity.” The president knew such a resolution was unlikely to pass, and he was right. The Senate Foreign Relations committee approved a resolution authorizing force in Syria, but the bill never even came up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Flash forward nearly one year, and the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated rapidly. The rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq now presents a present threat to global security and the same “human dignity” which Obama warned was jeopardized by Assad’s use of WMDs. Now, the threat to American national security is no longer theoretical. U.S. officials routinely warn that ISIS could execute attacks on Western targets from their safe haven in the Middle East and an American citizen was brutally beheaded as part of an ultimatum directed at Washington. Suddenly, congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria is no longer a White House priority.

On Monday, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd reported that the discussion in the White House “is now about targets” to strike in Syria, not whether Obama is authorized to mount such a campaign. Obama appealed to a rather flimsy justification to mount a broad air war inside Iraq by citing his constitutional authority to defend American assets and personnel threatened by ISIS in cities like Baghdad and Erbil. That justification did not extend to, for example, the Mosul Dam; a vital strategic target where the U.S. engaged in an air campaign successfully aimed at dislodging ISIS positions. If Obama engages in strikes inside Syria, his administration will be conceding that the anti-ISIS campaign is no longer strictly defensive in nature.

“If the U.S. can make the attack small enough, it may be able to get it through without having to get approval from Congress,” Todd said. “The concern is that lawmakers would not approve a large-scale assault in an election year given the short amount of time they’ll be in session.”

The MSNBC host noted that lawmakers could simply approve funding for Syria strikes as part of a continuing budget resolution to fund the government. While not especially honest with the American people, such a tactic would resolve a political problem for both the president and members of Congress alike.

This strategy stands in stark contrast to Obama’s approach to intervention in Syria one year ago, which was marked by Rose Garden pleas and a national address supposedly aimed at pressuring Congress into approving strikes inside Syria. The difference between these two episodes is painfully clear: Obama did not want to go to war in Syria in 2013 and still doesn’t, but he feels he has no choice but to do so today.

What a difference a year makes.


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The Foley killer is the son of the militant who bombed the two embassies under Clinton, in ’98, and is on trial now in the USA…why Hillary has not peeped on Foley’s beheading.

#smartpower

everdiso on August 21, 2014 at 3:13 PM

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Disconnected Oaf in Chief

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM

I learn so much about MSNBC with Noah’s posts.

faraway on August 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM

SmartKerryPower

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 12:05 PM

“If the U.S. can make the attack small enough, it may be able to get it through without having to get approval from Congress,”

My copy of the Constitution doesn’t have the “It’s just a tiny little war” exception clause.

Rusty Nail on August 25, 2014 at 12:06 PM

This is how things are run in a Banana Republic.

NapaConservative on August 25, 2014 at 12:08 PM

It also led to worries — expressed privately — among Democratic party strategists that Obama’s seemingly long-view approach to international and domestic conflicts could spell doom for the party’s chances in the midterm elections, which are only about 10 weeks away.

All is politics with the goon who occupies the seat.

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 12:08 PM

OT-

Obama, Kerry, nor Hagel attended the funeral for the highest-ranking officer to be killed in a combat zone since Vietnam. Yet, three WH aides were sent to the funeral of a worthless hulking street thug in St. Louis.

Says everythig that needs to be said about priorities.

Happy Nomad on August 25, 2014 at 12:08 PM

To bad the Military just sent out all those pink slips.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/3102793/posts

warren on August 25, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Obama to message to Muslims worldwide:

“C’mon….you’re making it difficult for me to cover for you”

BobMbx on August 25, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Boy would senator Obama be pissed off at president Obama.

Obama will use his famed “Fecal Touch” on the situation in Syria.

“Syria will be one of Obama’s greatest accomplishments.”
Joe “Choo-Choo” Biden

jukin3 on August 25, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Chris Chilliza is frucking retarded.

The reasons that Obama gets little credit for the economic improvements are many, including that many people don’t feel as though things are getting better in their lives (two-thirds of those surveyed in the NBC-WSJ poll were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with the state of the economy) and that the news of late has been dominated by chaos not just around the world but also within our borders.

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Ultimately, Kerry would be proven correct. Syria did consent to surrendering its stockpiles of declared chemical weapons

Kerry (still) is a naive jerkwad.

So Syria consented. High fives for everyone, especially the Russians who oversaw the removal of it’s stockpiles. Are you kidding me?

I’m guessing there are stockpiles aplenty, just not located where they were before.

Kerry: F-

fogw on August 25, 2014 at 12:29 PM

Kings don’t need Congresses.

Obama apparently acknowledges no limits to his authority.

ConstantineXI on August 25, 2014 at 12:35 PM

While not especially honest with the American people, such a tactic would resolve a political problem for both the president and members of Congress alike.

This reminds me of the SecDef in Buckaroo Banzai learning that creatures from the 8th Dimension were invading Earth… he pulled out ‘Declaration of War – The Short Form’.

Note that was fiction.

No one could write a story involving the sort of junk going on under Obama just back in the ’90s and sell it as fiction: no one would believe it.

That is how we know we are in the real world – it is not confined to plausibility, continuity or even having a shred of dignity to proposed and taken actions. Reality is not so constrained as fiction is.

ajacksonian on August 25, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Foot-Dragger In Chief…

hillsoftx on August 25, 2014 at 12:43 PM

No one could write a story involving the sort of junk going on under Obama just back in the ’90s and sell it as fiction: no one would believe it.

That is how we know we are in the real world – it is not confined to plausibility, continuity or even having a shred of dignity to proposed and taken actions. Reality is not so constrained as fiction is.

ajacksonian on August 25, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Indeed.
Every one of the Obama scandals reads like a B-grade thriller, piled up with unbelievable antics – no reputable editor would have accepted a plot based on any of them, unless proposed as a deliberate farce.

AesopFan on August 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM

I learn so much about MSNBC with Noah’s posts.

faraway on August 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Does he watch ANYTHING else?

ConstantineXI on August 25, 2014 at 12:53 PM

“Libya will be one of Obama’s greatest achievements.”
Joe “Choo-Choo” Biden

jukin3 on August 25, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Obama will probably not go to Congress because he’s afraid the Republicans in the House might actually say yes. He cannot, under any circumstances, allow the House to be portrayed as anything but obstructionist.

TarheelBen on August 25, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Obama appealed to a rather flimsy justification to mount a broad air war inside Iraq by citing his constitutional authority to defend American assets and personnel threatened by ISIS in cities like Baghdad and Erbil.

Can someone provide me with the Article, Section and Clause cited within the US Constitution for this? Lots of idiots cite “constitutional authority” but few can seem to pinpoint the actual wording in the Constitution. I suspect this is also one of those illusory citings…

dominigan on August 25, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Obama will probably not go to Congress because he’s afraid the Republicans in the House might actually say yes. He cannot, under any circumstances, allow the House to be portrayed as anything but obstructionist.

TarheelBen on August 25, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Very likely he would get more yes votes from the GOP than from his own party.

myiq2xu on August 25, 2014 at 1:25 PM

The reason for the change is simple: military intervention in Syria last year would have been extremely controversial and Obama wanted political cover. Now, much of the public is begging for action and he wants the glory. It’s purely a political calculation.

The Grinch on August 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Can someone provide me with the Article, Section and Clause cited within the US Constitution for this? Lots of idiots cite “constitutional authority” but few can seem to pinpoint the actual wording in the Constitution. I suspect this is also one of those illusory citings…

dominigan on August 25, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Supposedly it is inherent in his powers as commander-in-chief.

myiq2xu on August 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Entitleist

Schadenfreude on August 25, 2014 at 1:28 PM

He’s CIC, he can do what he wants – for 90 days. After that, it’s “justify your actions or get funds cut.”

mojo on August 25, 2014 at 1:43 PM

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, voted by Congress in 2003, has never been repealed by Congress, so that Obama could rely on it to justify military action against ISIS in Iraq (which he probably should have engaged much earlier).

If ISIS is later defeated in Iraq, they would probably flee into Syria, and then a debate could be engaged as to whether the threat could be contained in Syria, or whether the United States should enter Syria to eradicate the threat.

But it is far too early for the US to get involved militarily in Syria, since we don’t know who would replace Assad if he was removed from power, and whether the new Syrian government would be worse than Assad (for example, friendly to Iran or Al Qaeda).

The US has been involved in Iraq since 2003, and we know who is friendly and hostile to the US in Iraq. ISIS is a far greater threat to the civilized world in Iraq, and would become a much greater threat if they took over Baghdad, so the fight against ISIS should begin in Iraq, not Syria.

Steve Z on August 25, 2014 at 1:51 PM

The Senate Foreign Relations committee approved a resolution authorizing force in Syria, but the bill never even came up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Of course not! Harry Reid knows how to cover King Barack’s ass.

Besides, it’s all the fault of that ‘obstructionist’ House! Just ask any low-IQ, low-info voter.

GarandFan on August 25, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Barry better be careful or Vlad will bitch slap him yet again.

The Pencil Neck is Vlad’s homie.

formwiz on August 25, 2014 at 4:15 PM