Initially, President Obama said he didn’t need Congressional approval to launch a strike on Syria. Then, last weekend, he decided he did need Congressional approval, although he never explained his change of heart. Today, he came up with a third variation on that theme: He doesn’t need Congress’s blessing to take military action, but he won’t act militarily unless he gets it … or at least maybe he won’t.
Yahoo News cites an NPR interview with Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in which Blinken confirmed a New York Times article claiming that the president considers going to war without Congressional approval as “almost unthinkable,” and even a potential tipping point for impeachment proceedings against him.
If your head isn’t yet spinning, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden added the following two cents:
As the President has said, he has the authority to act, but his intention is to do so with the approval of the Congress. As he said in Sweden, he believes they will vote to authorize the use of military force. I’m not going to speculate on the President’s decision-making if they don’t approve; we think they will.
Blinken for his part also played down the prospects that American military strikes on Syria would result in retaliatory attacks against America by Syria or its patron, Iran, or the Iran-aligned Hezbollah Islamist militia … but he could not completely rule it out.
We spend a lot of time, when we think about these things, trying to game out every possible contingency, every possible unintended consequence. And no one can give you a 100% guarantee.
We work to make sure that If anyone tries to do anything to escalate, we’re in a position to respond — but our best assessment, including by our intelligence community, is that none of these countries have an incentive to pick a fight with the United States.
So where does all of this leave the president, who was goaded into this quagmire by his own rhetorical bluster last year, when he said that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad would cross a red line? Except of course that now he says he never said that even though video of him saying it exists.
Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic vote-counters in the House of Representatives warned privately that, if a vote on authorizing the use of force were held today, Obama would lose. With public opinion strongly against military action, the political realities have led backers of the use of military force to call on Obama to make a national address to lay out his case for war. If he does, he is certain to have his trusted teleprompter at the ready, but perhaps he should also enlist the services of a translator who can communicate his message in English.