BARACK Obama has an interesting understanding of presidential power.
The freedom to practice one's religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, yet Obama has no problem trampling that right by forcing citizens to subsidize abortion through Obamacare insurance policies in direct violation of their faith. Similarly, Obama has not hesitated to unilaterally pick and choose what portions of federal law his administration will enforce, a practice that imitates the worst traits of long-dead European monarchs.
Yet on the issue of Syria, Obama is now the most deferential of presidents. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution clearly states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States ...” The president has power to act, but with Syria, Obama wants to play the role of bystander.
In areas where presidential power is supposed to be limited, Obama sees no limits. But in the one arena where a president has significant latitude, Obama insists — this time, after flying solo in deciding to attack Libya — that he's trapped in amber.
As a general rule, we oppose congressional micromanagement of the president's role as commander in chief. From a political standpoint, it's good to get pre-emptive buy-in from Congress and the general public before undertaking military action. From a pragmatic standpoint, that isn't always possible. National defense can require swift action incompatible with lengthy debates or the recess-filled congressional calendar. The enemies of the United States don't simply twiddle their thumbs in the meantime.
National defense isn't limited to responding to a direct attack on U.S. soil. Actions in faraway lands do have ripple effects that can impact the United States. Supporters of military action reasonably argue that if the United States shrugs off Syria's use of chemical weapons, other rogue nations will be emboldened. Given North Korea's and Iran's nuclear obsessions and terrorist ties, that could have severe consequences for long-term U.S. security.
By declaring the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line,” Obama put U.S. credibility on the line. This raises another point: When a president speaks, words matter. We're not encouraged by Obama's rhetoric throughout this debate, and therefore understand the reluctance of many congressmen to support military action. After drawing a hard line, Obama administration officials leaked that any military response against Syria would be very limited — and therefore likely ineffective.
For this cause to be worth the expenditure of taxpayer resources and possible loss of U.S. lives, there must be a military objective. Helping the president save face does not meet that standard. If Obama can't provide a well-thought-out plan of attack designed to achieve definitive benefit for U.S. security, he should withdraw his request for congressional authorization.
Obama and his supporters seem to think congressional approval absolves the president of responsibility for any subsequent military outcome. Obama's former senior adviser David Axelrod even tweeted, “Congress is now the dog that caught the car.” Axelrod is wrong. Obama remains the commander in chief; no congressional vote can change that fact. Obama will be responsible for the result of any Syrian military campaign.
Contrary to Axelrod's observation, Obama appears to be the dog that caught the car. Has he finally learned that winning a presidential campaign means you must stop campaigning and start governing?