Obama to Seek Congressional Approval for Syria War
September 1, 2013
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com & Paul Lewis / The Observer
The US war on Syria looks like it may be getting delayed a little bit, with President Obama saying that he's made his decision to attack and that the Pentagon has told him they're ready to start firing missiles at Syria at any time. At the same time, Obama insisted the attack was "not time-sensitive" and that he could attack today, tomorrow, or even a week or month from now. The big surprise, however, was that he said he will seek Congressional authorization for the war.
Obama to Seek Congressional Approval for Syria War
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(August 31, 2013) -- The American war on Syria looks like it may be getting delayed a little bit, with President Obama saying that he's made his decision to attack and that the Pentagon has told him they're ready to start firing missiles at Syria at any time.
At the same time, Obama insisted the attack was "not time-sensitive" and that he could attack today, tomorrow, or even a week or month from now. The big surprise, however, was that he said he will seek Congressional authorization for the war.
The administration has repeatedly insisted they don't need Congress to start a war, and Obama reiterated that claim today, saying he absolutely has the authority to attack Syria on his own, but that he believes the "nation will be stronger" with a Congressional debate.
Obama gave no indication that Congress would be brought back into session early, however there has been some hint of willingness from the Senate (and not the House), and without that the debate would have to wait until at least September 9, a week from Monday.
Though Congress is expected to be hotly divided on the war, the administration presumably wouldn't have asked for a vote if they didn't believe they'd win it, particularly after Britain's involvement in the war was stalled by its parliament.
Assuming that that none of this changes, and assuming the president doesn't intend to start the war and then seek authorization after the fact, that would delay the start of the attacks through the next week and into the early part of the following week.
Battle Looms in Congress as Obama
Makes Syria a Vast Political Gamble
US president could face toughest fight in House of Representatives, which has opposed him on a range of issues
Paul Lewis / The Observer
WASHINGTON, DC (August 31, 2013) -- Barack Obama has taken a potentially huge political gamble by putting the decision over whether to attack Syria in the hands of Congress.
Republican and Democratic leaders may be expected to back the president's call for military action, but support among lawmakers, who have become increasingly restive in recent months, is by no means guaranteed.
With a vote not scheduled to take place until the week beginning 9 September, when members return from recess, Obama faces days of intense political debate over the evidence of a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian government and the rationale for military strikes with limited international support.
In a sign of the looming battle, the Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both hawks who have urged strikes on Syria, said they would use the vote to push for a more significant intervention than that proposed by Obama, who said that it should be "limited in duration and scope."
"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," they said in a statement.
Democrats control the Senate, but Obama could face the toughest battle in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which is opposing the president on a range of issues from healthcare to immigration reform.
The House speaker, John Boehner, welcomed the president's announcement in a joint statement with other Republican leaders. "Under the constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress," the statement said. "We are glad the president is seeking authorisation for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised."
There were also calls for an early recall of Congress, similar to the emergency session of parliament in Britain on Thursday. Obama acknowledged the British vote against military force in his speech, saying after David Cameron's defeat "many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress".
The British vote galvanised members of Congress who felt they should have a say over military action -- more than 200 signed a statement calling for a vote.
Senior Democrats can be expected to support Obama. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was reported on Friday to have been pushing Obama to take action against Syria.
However, most observers were predicting that a vote would see rebels on both Republican and Democratic sides.
The top Republican in the Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Corker, said Obama could have difficulty securing the necessary votes on Capitol Hill. He told CNN the president would need to use "every ounce of political capital that he has to sell this".
For Obama, political capital is scarce in Congress. Even before his announcement on Saturday, political observers were anticipating a major showdown when members of Congress return in September over government budgets and the debt ceiling.
He appeared to acknowledge some potential pitfalls when he called on members of Congress to "consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment".
The president did not say whether he would launch a military attack without congressional approval.
The question of whether a US president can launch military action without congressional backing is subject to dispute. While it is argued a commander-in-chief cannot constitutionally declare war without Congress, in recent decades presidents have used executive powers to sanction military action.
When running for president in 2007, Obama said the president "does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation".
He added that "in instances of self-defence, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent".
Obama later came under criticism in 2011 for launching strikes against Libya after minimal consultation with Congress. Throughout the week White House officials have said the use of chemical weapons posed a threat to the core national security interests of the US, and indicated Obama was ready to act without Congress. Senior administration officials gave the impression that strikes were imminent and some observers were expecting them to begin on Saturday night.
Obama's decision on Saturday to seek approval from Congress delayed action for days or possibly weeks.
The calculation may have had less to do with his commitment to constitutional principles than his realisation that he was becoming isolated.
Unable now to secure the backing of the United Nations security council or even Britain -- who Obama conceded was America's "closest ally" -- he appears to have sought the cover of congressional backing.
However, the decision carries with it major political risks. Polls show limited support among citizens for military action against Syria, although the public is more open to limited strikes that might only last a few days.
Political analysts said Obama would not have sought congressional backing unless he was confident he could win the vote.
However he could face tough opposition in the House of Representatives, where an unusual alliance between libertarian Republicans and leftwing Democrats last month almost passed a motion against the National Security Agency.
The motion, which sought to effectively halt the mass collection of US phone records in the aftermath of whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures, lost by just 12 votes.
It constituted a major rebellion -- a majority of Democrats voted against the White House -- and showed how congressional leaders sometimes have only limited sway over representatives.
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