President Obama’s surprising decision to seek congressional authorization to attack Syria has caused considerable concern in Israel, according to David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel. Horovitz says the Israeli political and military leadership “is now fearful that, in the end, domestic politics or global diplomacy will ultimately lead the US to hold its fire altogether.” Moreover:
It is worried at the ever-deeper perception of Obama’s America in the Middle East as weak, hesitant and confused — most especially in the view of the region’s most radical forces, notably including Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran. And it is profoundly concerned that the president has set a precedent, in seeking an authorization from Congress that he had no legal requirement to seek — and that Congress was not loudly demanding — that may complicate, delay or even rule out credible action to thwart a challenge that dwarfs Assad’s chemical weapons capability: Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons.
Let’s break this down.
If Congress does not authorize President Obama to attack Syria (possible) and in that event, Obama backs down (very possible), the U.S. will, indeed, be viewed by Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, and just about everyone else as weak, hesitant and confused. This outcome may be fine — perhaps even optimal — as far as left-wing Democrats are concerned. But it shouldn’t sit well with Republican legislators. They should keep this in mind when they vote on the question Obama has put to them.
If Congress authorizes the use of military force and Obama launches a campaign that significantly degrades the military assets of the Assad regime, then Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran will begin to take the U.S. more seriously, whatever they say publicly. In this scenario, Obama’s decision to go to Congress will, if anything, make the U.S. appear all the more resolved to confront the Middle East bad guys, at least when we can do so at a relatively low cost. Right now, I don’t think that’s the perception.
But hasn’t Obama also demonstrated that he won’t use force to stop Iran’s nuclear program without going to Congress? And won’t Congress be much less inclined to launch an attack on Iran than on Syria?
The answer to the second question may well be yes. But, as a logical matter, the answer to the first question is no, not necessarily. The premise (whether valid or not) of Obama’s decision to go to Congress over Syria is that the resulting delay won’t adversely affect our ability to strike because time is not of the essence in this case. And even before he decided to go to Congress, it was clear that Obama didn’t regard stealth as essential.
In the case of Iran, Obama could authorize a strike without seeking congressional approval on the theory going to Congress would be inconsistent with the need for rapidity and secrecy, as it surely would be in that instance.
As a practical matter, though, it’s nearly certain that Obama won’t attack Iran either with or without the approval of Congress. If Obama’s handling of the Syria business has helped drive this reality home to Israel’s political and military leadership, then it has that, at least, to recommend it.