Obama ordered military action in Libya without consulting Congress. While the campaign was successful in taking down the brutal dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the country is still a mess two years later.
While Obama believes that the use of chemical weapons in Syria surpasses a red-line that leaves the U.S. no chance but to respond, he also knows that a unilateral strike in a country mired in a bloody, complicated civil war is not as appetizing as it was on 9/11. And the claim that a strike against Syria would not last long, would avoid U.S. casualties and would not pull the U.S. into a broader conflict in the Middle East is no longer as believable as it once was.
In his address in the Rose Garden on Saturday, Obama acknowledged that his decision to strike Syria would only be bolstered by a congressional vote. “Our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together,” he said.
“I know well that we are weary of war. We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military. In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve. And that's why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war,” he said. “Instead, we’ll continue to support the Syrian people through our pressure on the Assad regime, our commitment to the opposition, our care for the displaced, and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people.”
While many are applauding Obama’s choice to consult Congress, others question whether it undermines the power of the U.S. presidency. The New York Republican congressman Pete King said that in doing so, “President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents … The president doesn't need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline” on the use of chemical weapons.
That Obama has bowed to Congress on the question of Syria should come as no surprise, however. Not only is he a former senator, so is his Secretary of State John Kerry, his Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Vice President Joe Biden.
I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Obama said.
What’s also telling in his decision to put the Syria question in the hands of Congress is Obama’s blatant dismissal of the United Nations Security Council. “I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad accountable,” Obama said.