If he had decided to go ahead and launch attacks on Syria, he would have been accused by Republicans (and let’s not forget progressives) of exceeding his authority as president. Now that he chose to seek congressional approval, he is being accused by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) of weakening the presidency, and not only that, weakening the authority of future presidents.
Given how much worry we’ve seen over a greatly expanded ‘imperial’ presidency, shouldn’t reigning in executive powers be cause for jubilation instead?
It’s true that some Republicans have praised Obama, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, who takes the opposite tack: “The President’s role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.”
This echoes Obama, who said, when he announced his decision Saturday, “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.”
And then there is Obama’s personal heckler, John Boehner. Boehner pointed out, correctly, as it happens, that “Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress.” The issue of war is addressed in Article One, Section Eight.
Of course, the problem here is that there are things a president can do just short of war. After all, the definition of war is just a little fuzzy. We fought a war in Korea, after all, under the guise of a ‘police action.’ By any definition, Korea was a war, but the U.S. never declared war. It was a war, in effect, that we fought at the behest of the United Nations (authorized by United Nations Security Council resolution).
And Sen . John Conyers (R-TX) is also right when he says, “But we need to understand what the whole scope of consequences is. What the president may perceive as limited…won’t stop there.”
This is true. Look at Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Wars that went on for twice as long as our involvement in World War II. Look at the Vietnam War. Wars are easier to start than to end.
And it’s not just Republicans who are angry with Obama. Believe it or not, he is drawing criticism from overseas. As though it’s his fault Congress won’t return from recess to deal with the issue – a fact which McConnell may want to consider next time the president’s need for immediate action crops up. Crises will not wait for Congress.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has saved her criticism for Russia and China, for failing to work with the West on a resolution to the Syrian crisis, and her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, says the delay “must be used to reach a common position of the international community within the U.N. Security Council.”
British intelligence said 350 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack. Obama said well over a thousand, and Secretary of State John Kerry said 1,429. The one certainty in all this is that if the U.S. intervenes, many more will die than 350, or a thousand, or 1,429. And the dead, as the United States’ recent record with air strikes and drone missile strikes, will not be limited to the guilty.
Think about it from this perspective: because almost 3,000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks, the United States-led coalition killed 14,953 Iraqi civilians, including 1,201 children. From 2001 to 2003 alone, the United States killed somewhere between 3,100 and 3,600 Afghan civilians in bombing attacks.
So when we complain or show outrage over the deaths of a thousand or so Syrians, or when we call those deaths by chemical weapon attack an “inhuman atrocity,” let us at least put those numbers in perspective. Syria is not the only killer of women and children. The United States’ own hands are red.
And what is an inhuman atrocity anyway? Dropping a bomb on a child’s head or blowing his arms and legs off is not? But putting poison gas in their lungs is? Let’s take a step back and think for a minute, please.
Britain has chosen to stay out of Syria. France won’t act alone, and Germany cannot without UN mandate. Whether the United States is or should be the world’s policeman, we are still the biggest player. That does not mean Syria is without allies: Iran, for example. And Russia and China are both hostile to Western intervention.
Big wars come out of small events. The assassination of one man was the spark that began the First World War, that most horrific of all wars. I think, intellectually, both sides recognize this.
But some sides don’t mind big wars. We know who some of those people are. President Obama says he is war-weary. His war weariness is shared by millions of Americans who are very cool to the idea of U.S. intervention. We’ve seen enough of our young men and women die, be wounded, or go missing.
This president is unafraid of doing what is demanded of him by his office. He is doing what is right by opening Syrian intervention to debate. He is unafraid of doing what is right regardless of the criticism. We may not always agree with the decisions he makes, but we can trust that he does not make them without due consideration for the consequences, and that, ultimately, is the job of the president – and the Congress of the United States.
Whatever ultimately comes out of congressional debate, we will have at least had that debate that common sense – and human decency – require.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.