In what was a welcome development, President Barack Obama announced on Saturday that he would make the case to a skeptical Congress to authorize military intervention in Syria, following an example set late last week by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
“I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. 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 Assad accountable,” said President Obama in the White House Rose Garden.
“As a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly, they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the Prime Minister supported taking action,” he continued, referencing the failed vote that took place on Thursday in Parliament.
“Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” he added. “We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy.”
A broad bipartisan coalition representing more than 160 members of the House of Representatives had signed two different letters — one authored by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) and another from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — asking President Obama to seek congressional approval before his administration took action in Syria. The letters reminded President Obama of his constitutional obligation to go to Congress before taking military action overseas.
The administration is working hard to make its case to Congress, but it looks as though President Obama has his work cut out for him. While the Senate seems to be somewhat amenable to taking military action in Syria provided the language to authorize intervention is narrowed, members of the House from both parties are largely skeptical.
There are still many questions that members of Congress want answered, the most frequent of which is what happens if the conflict escalates into a broader conflict. It’s no secret that Middle East is a volatile region. Some wonder whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will retaliate or what Russia and/or Iran will do in response.
Another question is whether this is a show vote. As seen above, President Obama is still declaring that he has the sole authority to declare war and, based on his remarks, he considers seeking congressional authorization as some sort of a nicety. Secretary of State John Kerry has also said that President Obama can launch an attack on Syria even if Congress refuses to authorize military action.
Congress won’t vote on Syria until they go back into session next week, so it remains to seen what the White House will do should they reject authorization. But if President Obama refuses to respect the will of Congress — the will of the people’s representatives — we’ll be staring down an even deeper constitutional crisis than the one in which we already find ourselves.