By MAX REINHARDT
Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, was a simple man with a simple philosophy about governance: “The buck stops here.” President Barack Obama’s actions however, imply a revised version of his Democratic forbearer’s famous words, “The buck stops a few blocks from here, on the steps of Congress.”
On Aug. 21, 2012, Obama set a “red line” for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad: the movement or use of chemical weapons would result in an American military response. Three months later, Assed moved them. Eight months later, he launched a few, small-scale chemical attacks.
On the one-year anniversary of Obama’s ultimatum, the Syrian government gassed approximately 1,400 of its own citizens, including hundreds of women and children, according to the New York Times. Shockingly, Obama decided to seek congressional authorization for the use of force against Syria.
In the past, presidents have flexed American military muscle abroad with and without the approval of Congress. Unilateral presidential action is more controversial, but it is not without historic precedent, from Thomas Jefferson’s campaign against the Barbary pirates in 1801 to Bill Clinton’s bombardment of Serbian forces in the 1999 Kosovo War.
Under Article II of the Constitution and the War Powers Act, Obama has the authority as commander-in-chief to punish the Assad regime for its repeated, heinous use of chemical weapons.
So why put action against Syria up to a vote? War fatigue is certainly a factor. After thirteen years of fighting in the Middle East, Americans do not want to enter another conflict lightly. The demand for legislative oversight of the president is much greater than it has been in decades.
However, one must ask, why did Obama bomb Libya without asking Congress first? It certainly was not because the public’s stomach for foreign adventurism returned.
According to Reuters’ latest poll, only 29 percent would support bombing Syria if it is found that the Assad government was behind last week’s attack, 44 percent said we should stay out no matter what.
Syria presents a more dangerous conflict than Libya. Libya was not a sectarian conflict. A minority group was not fighting for political and physical survival. Comparatively, it was a cut and dry case of citizens overthrowing a despot. For Obama, it was a splendid little war, where a few warplanes and cruise missiles could turn the tide and boost America’s wounded post-Iraq war pride.
In Syria, Obama does not want to own the consequences of his own rhetoric. He put the credibility of the country on the line when he drew his red line.
Maybe he thought Assad would avoid the line like the plague. After the first attack, maybe Obama thought reaffirming his threat would scare the Syrian president back to his senses. The dead in Damascus are demonstrable proof the president’s strategy failed.
It is no secret that our government is gridlocked. Congress is more likely to destroy Obama’s resolution than Assad’s weapons of mass destruction storehouses.
Adding a new military engagement to the legislative agenda on top of gun control, tax reform, an immigration bill that is gathering dust and an ominous budget battle is irresponsible, wrongheaded and superfluous.
Obama seems to believe he has a moral imperative to make Assad pay for using chemical weapons. He has the power to act. If he believes its right, then he should. On military matters, the buck stops with him, not Congress.
Max Reinhardt is Chairman of the UMW College Republicans