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Is Congress Poised to Tell Obama “No” on Syria?

The following is an excerpt of Kevin Price’s latest column in the Huffington Post:

President Obama has rarely had problems making unilateral decisions. In fact, he has been more than willing to implement policies even after they were overturned by another branch of government. Furthermore, he has also allowed agencies to do things in disregard of Congressional oversight. We have even seen this in his military decisions as well, with the indiscriminate use of drones and other actions, without the approval and with little consultation from Congress.

ImageThe “drum beat” for military action has been loud since it became clear that Syria used chemical weapons on its own people, including hundreds of babies and children. David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister and the United States’ strongest ally, called for a special session of Parliament and the members voted against military action. This was shocking and a blow to Cameron’s leadership. Meanwhile, France has said it is going to support military action against Syria. President Obama has said that it is “imperative” for the U.S. to attack or we can expect more heinous actions on the part of the Syrian regime. Now, in what could be seen as a “reversal” for a man who has rarely been interested in the legislative branch and its opinions, Obama is not only consulting Congress on the issue of Syria, but asking for them to vote on it.

Political observers are going to be asking questions. Is the president looking for an excuse not to act? Will a negative vote from Congress become grounds for inaction? This is unlikely, because he indicated that there would be action regardless of the vote, but it could significantly affect what that action looks like. Remember, George Bush asked Congress to vote on the automobile industry bailout, they did with a resounding “no” and Bush authorized it anyway with TARP dollars. Actions such as these are often more show than substance. Will a vote in favor of military action lead to more drastic actions by the United States? We will have to wait and see.

If Congress authorizes action, the American people will certainly be more supportive and the president will also be seen as having had “matured” in his decision making. But if the president goes to Congress and they vote “no” and he proceeds with action (as it appears likely), I expect a fairly loud outcry and even more cynicism towards our government and its leaders. A vote supporting the president is anything but guaranteed. The American people have grown tired of war, this includes… (read more)

Obama Borrows Foreign Policy from Bush?

Kevin Price’s latest column at Huffington Post:

ImageThe controversial Bush Doctrine that became a political football over the last several campaigns now seems to be a part of Obama’s strategy in dealing with the possibility that the Syria regime used chemical weapons against its own people. The “Bush Doctrine” was first used by Charles Krauthammer in June 2001 to describe the Bush administration’s “unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM treaty and rejecting the Kyoto protocol.” Several months later (after September 11, 2001) it become a regular part of the political vernacular as the Bush administration took actions on its own, without the agreement of international organizations or allies, to preemptively “protect” the American people.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama has long been critical of this policy. He said in 2008 that “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” He goes on to say,

“As Commander-in-Chief, the president does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”

Candidate Obama was perfectly clear — unless danger is imminent, the Congress must be consulted in the action. Yet, in an interview just this week on PBS, President Obama seems to be significantly modifying his perspective, and one can even hear the echoes of Bush’s controversial “Doctrine” in his speech.

 

Gwen Ifill of PBS stated to the president early in the interview,

“For the American people who look at this (the situation in Syrian) and say, why are we getting involved, how do you justify taking action? I know you talked about international norms because of chemical weapon use, but not because of the 100,000 people who were killed there in the past, and the 2 million refugees who fled across the border.”

 

In response, Obama states

“Well, what’s happened has been heartbreaking, but when you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.”

Not only is Obama alluding to the Bush Doctrine, he is stating one of its cornerstone principles, which essentially states that “we have to attack the enemy that may, some day, have the potential to attack us.” The United States, its people, and its resources could become exhausted if we combatively…(read more)