President Barack Obama speaks at a G-20 Summit press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Obama says he would not launch military strikes against Syria if the government of that country were to turn over its chemical weapons to foreign minders—as Russia has proposed.
But the skeptical president—who suggests that he takes the Russian offer “with a grain of salt” —still wants the authority to launch those strikes.
So, even as the prospect for a non-military fix has been raised, Obama will keep lobbying a skeptical Congress for the approval of a military fix. Though the president refuses to rule out the prospect that he might launch strikes without congressional approval, he says, “I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously.”
Obama should take the congressional votes seriously.
He should not consider launching the strikes without affirmative signals from both the House and the Senate.
But he should also consider the debate that will anticipate those congressional votes—and the alternatives that will be proposed.
This president needs alternatives.
And Congress should provide them.
The president’s proposal to launch strikes against Syrian government targets, in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks, faces overwhelming opposition from the American people—59 percent in the latest CNN survey—and deep skepticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Beginning with a series of television interviews Monday evening, the president will be using the bully pulpit to make his case. And he’ll get a good measure of media buy-in in coming days. There will even be suggestions that the threat of military action is working—and that it must be codified.
But the prospect that the president will achieve a full momentum shift on this issue, and get the Congressional authorization for the use of force that he seeks, remains uncertain. Even Obama admits: “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about the congressional votes.
But, even if he loses, the president could gain options in the process.