So far, President Obama is playing alert political chess with respect to Syria, much to the disappointment of his adversaries. Earl Ofari Hutchison has a perceptive post up at HuffPo crediting President Obama’s deft strategy in seeking congressional approval for air strikes against Syrian president Assad’s regime. As Hutchinson explains:
If Obama had bowed to the initial GOP demands to take military action before getting congressional approval, GOP leaders would have jumped all over him and blamed him for not getting that approval — and they wouldn’t have stopped there. They would have also blamed him for any real or perceived failure to remove the Assad regime, or failure to sufficiently degrade his military to enable the rebels to defeat it, or for igniting a blowback that would further strengthen the hand of al-Qaeda linked radical Islamist factions fighting to topple Assad.
They would have sanctimoniously waved the provision in the Constitution that strictly forbids a president from engaging in any military action in the absence of an actual or imminent danger of an attack against the United States. The president does have authority under the 1973 War Powers Act in some situations to wage limited war with a strict time constraint on it without congressional approval but even here at least on paper the president must report to Congress on the action. The GOP rendered this a largely moot point when it switched gears and hoisted the demand that Obama take no action without congressional approval.
Obama recognized the damned if I do, damned if I don’t trap that the GOP had laid when he tossed any decision to strike Syria back to Congress. But even this didn’t silence Obama’s GOP critics. They quickly trotted out the line that Obama wasted time by not consulting Congress in the first place, and that this further contributed to the muddle in Syria. The GOP’s shallow, and self-serving gyrations to hammer Obama notwithstanding, the truth is that the type of unspecified intervention that the GOP demanded Obama take would have had potentially disastrous unintended consequences from killing innocent civilians to further stirring anti- American hatreds in the Middle East while doing nothing to rid Syria of Assad. The Obama administration would have had to answer for those consequences.
Hutchinson then reviews the history of the U.S.’s multi-trillion dollar military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting “The sobering reality was that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the most expensive wars in US history with the returns on both problematic” and adds that “Obama recognized that the Iraq war was an ugly and shameful page in U.S. history and that millions of Americans were furious and frustrated by it.”
These realizations, concludes Hutchinson, enabled President Obama to avoid “the GOP’s politically cynical demand that Obama intervene in Syria” which “would be foolhardy at best and utterly disastrous at worst.” Now, observes Hutchinson, the President “won’t have to make a one man stand on Syria with all the perils and pitfalls that that would have engendered. Not the least being the trap that the GOP had hoped to set for him.”
Obama may yet take emergency military action against Syria, with or without congressional approval. But, if he does, at least he can say he sought approval beforehand. Score the Republican’s cynical gambit foiled by Obama’s adroit strategy.