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Sat Sep 7, 2013, 05:30 AM

Obama, Syria, and Congress: Why Did He Go There?

The conventional snark on President Barack Obama's Syria strategy is that he's made a hash of it. The other day, I bumped into a former Obama administration official who informed me his jaw hit the floor when he watched the president on Saturday announce he would seek congressional authorization for a limited military strike on Bashar al-Assad's regime in retaliation for its presumed use of chemical weapons last month. "Why make this more complicated?" this frustrated ex-official asked. And a House Democrat I encountered who supports a strike—and who has been enlisted by House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to persuade progressive Ds to vote for the president's Syria resolution—was apoplectic: "The one thing this president knows is how dysfunctional and obstructionist the House is. Why would he stake his presidency on it?" This lawmaker was pessimistic that enough House Democrats could be coaxed into voting for the resolution; he was not making any progress with his partymates opposed to a strike. "We don't have the votes," he declared—and he was damn angry at Obama.

With his decision to seek congressional approval for an attack, Obama created a political whirlpool. He exacerbated the growing schism on the right that pits tea party isolationists—led by possible presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), other likely 2016ers, rushing to catch up—versus the coalition of hawks commanded by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and neocons who yearn for a deeper and larger intervention in Syria than the president envisions. This split has the potential to turn into an ideological civil war within the GOP during the next presidential campaign. Meanwhile, House Republicans are deeply divided (unlike during the run-up to the Iraq war), with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership crew on the president's side and rank-and-file House GOPers, enwrapped in Obama hatred, accusing the president of misleading the world and engaging in conspiratorial warmongering.

That's the good news for the White House. The bad news is that the president has sparked the same thing on his own side. Many Democrats, especially in the House, feel torn between backing the leader of their party and their anti-war inclinations, which are certainly buttressed by widespread popular opposition to the strike. Granted, Democrats are used to confronting such tensions. (Almost all House and Senate Republicans voted for the Iraq War, but half the Democrats backed it, and half opposed it.) Yet this time the decision for many Democrats is more difficult due to the overarching political context. The president is about to engage the Republicans on two contentious fronts: a battle over the funding of the federal government (with a possible government shutdown at risk) and a fight over raising the debt ceiling (with a possible financial crisis at risk). And tea party Republicans are attempting to bring Obamacare into the brewing mess. (Their threat: If you don't defund Obamacare, we'll shut down the government.) With all this looming, Democrats certainly don't want Obama's standing weakened, and if he loses the vote on the Syria resolution, he will be diminished.

And maybe not just at home. If Obama fails to win congressional support—at the moment, his prospects are much better in the Senate than the House—frenemies and foes abroad will no doubt consider this a sign of infirmity. And the president will confront yet another dilemma: whether to proceed with an attack. He has not ruled out an assault unauthorized by Congress. Yet if he bombs Syria without the support of Congress (or with only the Senate backing him)—a prospect discounted by several former Obama officials—he may well prompt a political crisis at home. (Yes, some GOPers will call for impeachment.) At the least, he will face a fusillade of criticism and the charge that he's a hypocrite who only abides by the Constitution when it suits him. Yet if the resolution does not pass both houses of Congress and Obama stands down on Syria—after having hurled exceedingly tough talk—he will probably appear weak to allies and enemies overseas.

Given all these swirling and complicated political dynamics, why did Obama grant Congress the right to hold him hostage? Some cynics have suggested that he might be seeking a way out of the corner he red-lined himself into. The polls show a strike would likely be highly unpopular among American voters, and experts of various ideological bents have raised serious questions about the efficacy and impact of a limited US military assault designed to deter Assad from the further use of chemical weapons. If Congress doesn't green light the endeavor, Obama can say he gave it a shot and retreat. Others have slammed Obama for not having the spine to go it alone, speculating he felt the need for political cover. But there's an alternative explanation: He's doing the right thing—or what he believes is the right thing.

<snip>

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/why-obama-sought-congressional-authorization-syria

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 05:59 AM

1. I hope he believes it's the right thing.

He'd be mistaken, IMHO, but I hope he really believes it. For him to do this knowing it's not right or, worse, knowing it's in the best interests of other states or entities, and to the detriment of the American people, it would be a crime. If that's the case, this country is I don't know what to call it anymore.

I hope our POTUS believes it's the right thing to do, and I hope to God somebody stops him.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 06:12 AM

2. I don't understand why Obama is pushing so hard to get this done.

I think he's fighting harder for this than anything else in his presidency so far. But he is doing the right thing by seeking Congressional approval, and it really bugs me when people ask why he's going to the trouble of consulting Congress. I don't agree with what Obama wants to do in Syria, but so far he's been following the law by going to Congress. It's scary that some people think he should go ahead with the bombings because it shows weakness for him to wait for authorization.

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Response to LuvNewcastle (Reply #2)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 07:41 AM

3. I don't see him pushing himself to be honest.

When a situation like this happened before in Libya. Obama went in without Congress. When I compare the two...he's actually very reluctant to go into Syria.

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Response to vaberella (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:00 AM

4. Oh, I think we'd already be bombing Syria if the British Parliament

hadn't voted against it. I haven't seen him this determined to get something passed since Obamacare was being pushed through. He was persuasive enough to get Boehner and Cantor on his side, and I'm sure there's going to be a lot more arm-twisting in the next several days. Regardless of what the House members are saying now, I think the vote will be close and Obama will eke out a victory. He's so far been more successful getting the GOP on board than he's been on the debt ceiling crisis or any other partisan fight. He's obviously promised them something big; their support doesn't come cheap.

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Response to LuvNewcastle (Reply #4)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:18 AM

6. And the U.N...

... and Germany and.....

Obama should never have made the "red line" comment. It was amateur hour.

Now, I'm only hoping that once the house says "no" he is smart enough to let it go and set about solving our own country's problems.

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Response to sendero (Reply #6)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 10:00 AM

12. I agree with all of that. n/t

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:09 AM

5. Bottom line is, regardless of his reasons,

he has shaken a comfortably entrenched and dysfunctional Congress to the coreey need to put up or shut up when it comes to policy around an issue which trumps ideological formulas. It points them back to the glaring reality that people vote and not corporations, something they sought to bypass through machinations and parlor tricks.

He has also brought into stark relief the fault lines in the geopolitics of the ME, something which most people find too murky to understand. He has also flushed Putin out of costume.

This President is no fool and I do believe that he thinks things through and acts from information. I certainly don't believe that this is something casually tossed out there. I'm happy to see so many being forced to abandon navel gazing and seriously question the power distribution in this nation and the world.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:26 AM

7. He has succeeded in separating the leadership from the membership in both parties,

using the issue of yet another foreign intervention as the issue, meanwhile arousing the public and the world, most of it, on the side of the membership, or the membership on the side of the public and the world, however you like it.

The question is whether it was deliberate, expected, or not. And it makes a big difference, which of those two it is.

I saw Feinstein on TV last night, she was practically spitting she was so avid to protect our credibility by bombing Assad. A strange delusion of what credibility means, we lie our ass off all day long when it suits, as a matter of policy, and yet we want to be believed, as a matter of course too.

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Response to bemildred (Reply #7)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:36 AM

9. that's an interesting point- the separation of the leadership from the rank and file

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Response to cali (Reply #9)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:51 AM

11. It's a rare thing, it's when things happen, when the leadership loses control.

When both parties are split. We voted for change, this is change. What sort of change, I don't see just yet.

And on top of the unfolding NSA debacle. And the rest of the list.

Usually the POTUS will want to be on the winning side in these things, but if it gets what you want done, maybe you don't care. LBJ comes to mind.

But if he walked into to this not expecting it, that is a whole different game, a lot scarier, because that betrays political naivety, living in the bubble, and not just him either. That's genuine, undeniable incompetence.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:32 AM

8. Occam's razor?

The Constitution says he's supposed to. Sometimes the simplest answer is the truth.

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Response to Cleita (Reply #8)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 08:42 AM

10. Even simpler - Obama has been threatened with impeachment.

Correct process didn't seem to matter to him until Republican figures started making public statements about the legal consequence for usurping the Constitution.

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Response to cali (Original post)

Sat Sep 7, 2013, 11:46 AM

13. When red-lined into corner, why not follow Constitution & let Congress bail you out?




While it is difficult to impossible to know the exact dynamics, whatever the exact thought processes:

(1) he IS doing the right thing by going to Congress, and
(2) our role in this is clear: to force Congress to do the right thing and vote down a disastrous entanglement (which will, coincidentally, have the secondary effect of bailing the President out politically)




















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