“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
– Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, 2007.
I’m not entirely sure what my position on intervention in Syria is. I do think it important that the UN inspectors be afforded more time. On the one hand, it seems unreasonable to suggest Syria can be compared to Kosovo before it – as some are doing – given that Kosovo did not have the level of Russian support that the Assad regime now seems to enjoy, and so any intervention against Assad, will inevitably only lead to Russian strengthening of the grotesque regime and an escalation of the conflict. On the other hand, what sort of awful precedent does it set, to allow a leader to chemically attack his own people, with no retribution, and no protection for those under attack? The circumstances forced upon refugees cannot be ignored by an international community that can help. If regime change isn’t the goal of intervention – As UK & US officials seem to be suggesting – then, what is? How do we ensure a post-Assad Syria isn’t overrun by Islamist religious conservatives? Is there a detailed plan for a secular, democratic framework upon Assad’s fall?
It would appear to me that President Obama may very well see himself in the firing line of the Republican obstruction and destruction machine, if he decides to push forward with intervention. Pushing ahead without UK assistance following the Commons vote last night, and without the spineless and opportunistic Arab League, but mainly without Congressional approval, could be a political disaster for the President. A bi-partisan Congressional group are calling on the President to seek the approval of Congress before launching any action. 50 House Democrats wrote a letter to the White House yesterday, stating:
“While we understand that as Commander in Chief you have a constitutional obligation to protect our national interests from direct attack, Congress has the constitutional obligation and power to approve military force, even if the United States or its direct interests [such as its embassies] have not been attacked or threatened with an attack. As such, we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”
Other prominent Democrats weighed in on the side of Congressional approval, including California’s 13th District Rep. Barbara Lee. Lee said:
“While the use of chemical weapons is deeply troubling and unacceptable, I believe there is no military solution to the complex Syrian crisis. Congress needs to have a full debate before the United States commits to any military force in Syria – or elsewhere.”
– And so, with House Democrats registering their worry that the President could go this alone, it isn’t a stretch to point out that House Republicans – given their erratic, and frankly senseless behaviour over the past few years – may use an attack on Syria as a smoking gun for an attempt at impeachment. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told a town hall meeting that impeachment proceedings against the President was:
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said:
“The only legal authority that is required to deploy the United States military is of the Congress and the president and the law and the constitution.”
It is not beyond the realm of imagination, for this particular Republican House to push forward with forging a serious attempt to impeach a President they have long despised, simply because he isn’t Republican.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C) said:
“If one of our troops goes to Syria and is killed, I will introduce articles of impeachment against the president.”
– Jones himself likes to hold vendettas, having been a key player in renaming French Fries to Freedom Fries, in protest of France’s opposition to the Iraq war. And whilst he threatens to impeach Obama, when asked about false Bush WMD claims, Jones simply asked President Bush to apologise. In short, like the IRS non-scandal, like the Benghazi-non scandal, and now Syria; the Republican over-dramatic voices of bitterness will flippantly use the conflict as an excuse to attempt to knock the President off of his throne.
The Defence Authorisation Bill passed last month in the House that urges the President to consider all possible courses of action to remove Assad from power, not requiring Congressional approval. This matters little to the voices in the same House who now demand Congressional approval. But whilst this may appear to give the Obama White House full Congressional support for regime change in Syria, it seems to be over ruled by the Defense Appropriations Bill, which according to Rep. Bill Young (R-Fl):
“Included in this measure was an amendment , which passed unanimously, that prohibits the use of any funds with respect to military action in Syria without consulting Congress as required by the War Powers Resolution.”
– The President has his hands tied. If he goes it alone, he will be provoking a fight with Congress that he can ill afford. The wolves are waiting to pounce. Indeed, if Congressional Republicans put forward a compelling enough case, resting on Constitutional grounds among others, and especially if intervention becomes shambolic and shows no strategic planning or a reasoned pull-out strategy, then it seems to me that Congressional Democrats will find it increasingly difficult to reasonably object. Plenty of Democrats are already unhappy at the expanded use of drones, and most certainly do not favour a strike on Syria. Alienating those Democrats is particularly risky, because the conflict in Congress over intervention in Syria does not follow Party lines. If however the President does seek Congressional approval, and fails to get it, then lack of intervention in Syria from the most powerful nation on Earth gives Assad a green-light; makes the President look entirely powerless especially after his 2012 statement that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line; and Congress looking to be using the horrendous situation and innocent lives in Syria to win a battle with the White House. Everyone loses.
And if the US doesn’t intervene… what then? Who fills the gap? When does it stop? What becomes the red line before the Russians decide enough is enough? Another Rwanda? I suspect in this case, the US will be blamed for not intervening.
Either way, for the President, conflict in the Middle East has come full circle. His Presidential victory can in some way be attributed to the image presented of being ‘not Bush’, a President marred by a unilateralist attack on Iraq. In 2013 ‘not Bush’ now stands alone, preparing a unilateralist strike on Syria, tied to his 2012 declaration that use of chemical weapons would be a red line. It is an intensely difficult situation for the President, but will become far more difficult if he seeks to press ahead without Congressional approval. Calls for impeachment will become more pronounced. And as political point scoring in Washington ensures that valuable time passes, by which Syrian weapons and targets can be protected, a strike on the capabilities of the hideous Assad administration becomes less and less effective.