Obama’s exit strategy: Congress tied my hands

Bashar al-Assad is probably already planning his victory parade.

First Obama says he’s decided to attack Syria, but then he immediately says he’s seeking authorization from Congress. But then he signals he’ll attack even without the support of Congress. Then AIPAC wheels out its big guns in Obama’s support, but for once it doesn’t look like anyone’s too worried about what the Israel lobby thinks. Even though Israel itself supports Obama, more than anything they just want to see the war in Syria continue. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here,” says a former Israeli diplomat. And now Obama’s latest effort to rally international support has fallen flat — even the French are getting cold feet.

Is the president who likes to lead from behind now ready to lead with on one behind?

Apparently not. The White House isn’t ready to raise the white flag just yet but it’s already signalling that it may soon concede defeat.

Garance Franke-Ruta writes: President Obama does not intend to act in defiance of Congress if it votes down a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition Friday.

“Has the president decided what he will do if Congress votes no on using force?” Inskeep asked during the short segment.

“You know Steve, when, after the events of August 21, we reached out to Congress and we had conversations with members of Congress across the country,” Blinken replied. “And the one thing we heard from nearly all of them is that they wanted their voice heard and their vote, and their votes counted.”

“The president of course has the authority to act, but it’s neither his desire nor his intention to do, to use that authority absent Congress backing,” Blinken said.

It was the second such signal-sending move of the day, following on the heels of Peter Baker’s report in the New York Times:

Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.

Another way to look at this: If Obama were comfortable acting alone — that is to say, without the support of Congress, the United Nations, NATO, the Arab League, or any major allies save France — to order a strike on Syria, he had the opportunity to do so without going to Congress and requesting that each of its members rouse their electorates and invest political capital in considering and voting on the question for themselves. [Continue reading…]

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4 thoughts on “Obama’s exit strategy: Congress tied my hands

  1. hquain

    If Obama wriggles out of this one by getting Congress to tie his hands, he deserves major credit.

    He’s claimed the right to do it anyway: that’s in the rule book for The American President. As long as he doesn’t actually do it, he’ll be — if not clean — then clean enough.

    And he’s farmed out the worst of the rhetoric to the fatuous, eager Kerry. So, at this point, it seems he may be able to continue Obama-ing along, never quite taking a stand, but never quite merging the lesser with the greater of the fabled two evils that we choose between at election time.

  2. Paul Woodward

    HQuain: I don’t think he wants Congress to tie his hands, but if — as it seems somewhat likely — they vote down his measure, he can see that he would ‘own’ an attack on Syria in an unprecedented way: no support from the UN, nor from Congress, little support from allies, even less from the public. Not only does he lack the internal constitution to go solo in that way, but I think he would justifiably feel legally exposed.

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