President Obama talks to bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington while discussing a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. (REUTERS/ Larry Downing)
In an extraordinary development that reflected both the level of division regarding military intervention in Syria and the power of the popular outcry from Americans who want their Constitution to be respected, President Obama on Saturday indicated that he will ask Congress for authorization to use force against the Middle Eastern country.
Obama, who had seemed to be on track to launch missile strikes without the approval of the House and Senate, faced loud objections from House members. More than 150 Democratic and Republican members signed letters demanding that the president ask for the approval of Congress before taking any action. The White House took note when Democrats such as California Congressman John Garamendi pointedly declared that “the president has the responsibility to seek authorization from our nation’s elected leaders before initiating military action.”
On Saturday, in a White House Rose Garden announcement that shocked much of official Washington, the president agreed.
“We should have this debate,” Obama announced, just days after the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for authority to join the United States in intervening in Syria.
Now Obama has set up a similar test. While the president continues to assert that he has the “the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization,” he acknowledged Saturday that “I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
With that expression of regard for the system of checks and balances, the president would be hard-pressed to go ahead with a military intervention that the House or Senate rejected.
Indeed, though he will lobby for the strike, Obama clung Saturday to his past association with antiwar sentiment. “A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited,” he said. “I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end.”
Because Congress does not return from its current recess until September 9, the president’s decision appears to delay what had seemed to be an imminent strike. It has also created an opening for opponents of this military intervention to press members of the House and Senate to vote “no.”
Obama left no doubt that he wants to take action. He said Saturday that he is “prepared to strike” Syria, in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks in that war-torn country. “I have decided that the US should take military action against Syrian military targets,” said the president, who described the desired action as “limited in duration and scope.”