President Obama announced this afternoon that he has decided to launch an attack on Syria but will not move forward until Congress has had an opportunity to debate the issue and has voted to authorize the attack.
Earlier this week, Politico reported:
As President Barack Obama moves closer to calling for military action against Syria, a powerful ally that could help him win over skeptics is staying quiet.
The Israel lobby, including the high-profile American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups, isn’t pushing for intervention even as evidence emerged this week that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its citizens.
The silence could be a problem for Obama, since the Jewish groups are connected across the political spectrum, wielding influence from the far right to liberal Democrats on issues critical to the Middle East — especially when it comes to the use of military force.
And while Obama has been willing to strike a foreign country without Congress’s approval — as he did in Libya — this time he not only faces a reluctant Congress, but a vocal chorus of Republican and Democratic lawmakers publicly advocating against entanglement.
Since AIPAC and the rest of the lobby have thus far remained silent, will they now start lobbying on behalf of the White House? Possibly, but it seems just as likely that they will not want to be held responsible for pushing Congress to make an unpopular decision.
As for what Congress will do, Obama is taking a gamble, but not as big a gamble as Britain’s prime minister David Cameron took when he got defeated in parliament. Chances are, Congress will bloviate on the issues, tip their hats in the direction of a president who was polite enough to ask their opinions and then, since they don’t really have any, they’ll mostly line up behind him support his decision and sing the praises of the men and women of America’s armed services.
Since Obama has introduced an element that up until now was not part of the debate — that this attack once authorized could come at any time at all — there is another course of action that the White House should consider and that might actually make more sense even to those who remain mesmerized by the supposed utility of America’s military strength: use it as an ongoing deterrent rather than an instrument of punishment. In other words, once Obama has been given the green light from Congress, U.S. battleships can then hold their positions off the coast of Syria indefinitely ready to strike without warning.
If the goal is simply to prevent further use of chemical weapons, the threat of an attack of indeterminate scope is likely to have much more impact on Assad’s calculations than the memory of an attack his forces managed to survive.
Obviously, there are more constructive courses of action that America and its allies should pursue that would not involve either the threat or use of military strikes, but since strikes themselves are the focus of the current debate, then it’s surely preferable to think about using that particular form of power in the most intelligent way possible.