President Obama surprised me today by announcing that he is asking Congress to authorize an attack on Syria. Going to Congress on this matter is the right thing to do, even if one believes — as Obama says he does — that he has the power to strike without congressional approval.
By going to Congress, Obama pushes back the time table for a strike. He claimed, however, that the military advised him that an attack on Syria is not “time sensitive.”
This depends, I suppose, on the nature of the attack. If Obama simply wants to lob a few cruise missiles at Syria for no real purpose other than “doing something,” he can take such action at any time. But if wants, as he should, to degrade Syria’s military capacity and/or its command structure, then time probably matters. By waiting, Obama enhances the ability of the Assad regime to protect itself and its assets.
Maybe our military believes that Obama has already waited too long, and that the regime already has taken precautionary measures.
In any event, I believe that Congress should return to Washington immediately to debate and vote on authorizing an attack. Obama, though, did not ask for this.
The vote should reveal some interesting divisions within both parties. In the Senate, I imagine that Democrats will rally pretty solidly around Obama on this. He may lose a few Dems, but Sens. McCain, Graham, Ayotte and company will vote with Obama. So too, I expect, will a sizeable chunk of more conservative members, assuming that Obama presents a decent case.
In the House, I expect Democratic defections to be more substantial. If so, and given that Republicans make up the majority, Obama will need plenty of Republican support.
Chances are he will get it, but perhaps not easily (I don’t know that Power Line is a bellwether, but we’re divided over the advisability of attacking Syria). In any event, we’re likely to witness a revealing and pretty bitter debate within the Republican party.
STEVE adds: I’m going to watch very closely to see whether Obama presses a public case for this, along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Obama may hope that Congress will let him off the hook by voting it down, since he clearly lacks conviction about Syria. He then gets to blame an “obstructionist” Congress; a division in the GOP is just a bonus. Given how aggressively Obama has construed his executive authority in other areas, this strikes me as a totally cynical move on his part.
UPDATE: John McCain and Lindsey Graham are saying that they will oppose authorization for an intervention not aimed at toppling the Assad regime. They, of course, are the two main Senators who have been pushing for U.S. involvement in Syria. Now, they are going to oppose our involvement unless it meets their specifications.
No wonder presidents don’t like to go to Congress on matters as serious as war and peace.