White House sees Syria vote as rudder for rest of Obama’s term — especially on Iran
Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.
As a result, Mr. Obama would be even more reluctant to order action in the one case that has most preoccupied military planners: the development of a nuclear bomb by Iran. Any operation to take out Iranian nuclear facilities would require a far more extensive commitment of military force than the missile strike envisioned against Syria. Moreover, a rejection of the Syria strike would make Mr. Obama less likely to leave behind a robust force in Afghanistan after combat troops are withdrawn at the end of 2014.
“I think this vote determines the future of his foreign policy regardless of whether it’s a yes vote or a no vote,” said Rosa Brooks, a former top Defense Department official under Mr. Obama. “If he ekes out a yes vote, he’s beholden to the Republicans.” But, she added, “if he gets a no vote and stands down on Syria, he’s permanently weakened and will indeed probably be more inward looking.”