Opinion: Obama’s request reluctant, positive

September 4, 2013


— Because Syria’s convulsion has become as serious as Barack Obama has been careless in speaking about it, he is suddenly and uncharacteristically insisting that Congress participate in governance. Regarding institutional derangements, he is the infection against which he pretends to be an immunization.

In the Illinois Legislature, he voted “present” 129 times to avoid difficulties; now he stoops from his executive grandeur to tutor Congress on accountability. In Washington, where he condescends as a swan slumming among starlings, he insists that, given the urgency of everything he desires, he “can’t wait” for Congress to vote on his programs or to confirm persons he nominates to implement them. The virtues of his policies and personnel are supposedly patent and sufficient to justify imposing both by executive decrees.

In foreign policy, too, he luxuriates in acting, as most modern presidents have improvidently done, without the tiresome persuasion required to earn congressional ratifications. Without even a precipitating event such as Syria’s poison gas attack, and without any plausible argument that an emergency precluded deliberation, he waged protracted war against Libya with bombers and cruise missiles but without Congress.

Now, concerning Syria, he lectures Congress, seeking an accomplice while talking about accountability. Perhaps he deserves Congress’ complicity — if he can convince it that he can achieve a success he can define. If success is a “shot across the bow” of Syria’s regime, he cannot fail: By avoiding the bow, such a shot merely warns of subsequent actions.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has advertised his skepticism about intervening in Syria. His very public intrusion in a policy debate may exceed what is proper for the uniformed military, but he seems to have played Obama as dexterously as Duke Ellington played a piano. Dempsey assured Obama that the military mission could be accomplished a month from now. (Because the bow will still be there to be shot across?) This enabled Obama to say that using the military to affirm an international norm (about poison gas), although urgent enough to involve Congress, is not so urgent that Congress’ recess required abbreviation.

Britain’s Parliament inadvertently revived the constitutional standing of the U.S. Congress when Prime Minister David Cameron’s incompetent management of the vote resulted in Parliament refusing to authorize an attack. His fumble was a function of Obama’s pressuring him for haste. If Parliament had authorized an attack — seven switched votes would have sufficed — Obama probably would already have attacked, without any thought about Congress’ prerogatives. The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman reports that in an Aug. 24 telephone conversation with Cameron, Obama “made it clear that he wanted a swift military response — before global outrage dissipated and Bashar al-Assad’s regime had the chance to prepare its defenses.”

Many Republicans are reluctant to begin yet another military intervention in a distant and savage civil war. Other Republicans, whose appetite for such interventions has not been satiated by recent feasts of failure, will brand reluctance as “isolationism.” Reluctant Republicans can invoke Dwight Eisenhower.

He, who in 1961 enriched America’s lexicon with the phrase “military-industrial complex,” sought the presidency in 1952 to prevent its capture by what he considered an isolationist, or at least insufficiently internationalist, Republican faction represented by “Mr. Republican,” Ohio Sen. Robert Taft. Yet after one look as president-elect at the front line in Korea, Eisenhower ended that war. To advisers urging intervention on France’s behalf in Vietnam, he said (this from his memoirs): “Employment of airstrikes alone to support French troops in the jungle would create a double jeopardy: it would comprise an act of war and would also entail the risk of having intervened and lost.” He was not an interventionist regarding the 1956 Hungarian revolution, and he not only refused to support the 1956 British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, he ruthlessly forced its termination. About his brief and tranquil intervention in Lebanon, he wrote: “I had been careful to use [about U.S. forces] the term ‘stationed in’ Lebanon.”

Obama’s sanctimony about his moral superiority to a Congress he considers insignificant has matched his hypocrisy regarding his diametrically opposed senatorial and presidential understandings of the proper modalities regarding uses of military force. Now he asks from the Congress he disdains an authorization he considers superfluous. By asking, however reluctantly, he begins the urgent task of lancing the boil of executive presumption. And surely he understands the perils of being denied an authorization he has sought, then treating the denial as irrelevant.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


jayhawklawrence 4 years, 4 months ago

In reading this column I had the realization that what we lack in this country is the voice of wise leadership and the brilliance and courage needed to believe we can solve the great problems of our time.

Instead we have pseudo-intellectuals like George Will, a man who writes a convulated pile of nonsense and believes it to be the great literary work of the age. In fact, it reminds me a man in an Ivory Tower, looking at mirrors on the wall. This is what most Americans believe the people in Washington are doing these days. Collecting fat paychecks, attending parties, and worrying about their social status.

Of all the things people have unfairly called our President, now we hear that he is an "infection" because he cared about boys and girls being gased to death by a tyrant.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 4 months ago

President Obama and Congress,

Bring that money home to wage war against members of congress and think tanks who have waged war against the working class blue and white collared workers of this fine country. The people who made the USA wealthy..... wealthy.

Stop the insane spending on this war. It is taking the USA nowhere and leaving a lot of blood behind accompanied with dead and disabled American and Muslim bodies alike. Reckless and wasteful indeed.

Instead spend this money.

--- Creating new industry that cannot be outsourced by private corporate interests thus securing zillions of jobs for the USA = economic growth

--- Repair old sidewalks throughout this nation

--- Build bike/hike paths in the name of safety throughout the nation

--- Take over the the funding of public education to protect public schools from privatization

--- Take back the college loan program to protect students from corrupt financial institutions

--- Save our national parks from private corporate interests

--- increase the minimum wage to $17.50 per hour = only $33,000 a year.

Last but certainly not least let Americans have public financing of campaigns. Citizens cannot afford special interest money campaigns for it is the citizens that get left out. Let citizens vote on this issue. http://www.publicampaign.org/

Pastor_Bedtime 4 years, 4 months ago

Too bad this discussion isn't interesting enough for John McCain, who had the poor judgement to pass time during the Syria hearing playing I-Phone poker.

Armstrong 4 years, 4 months ago

There is an old saying " make your company idiot proof because some day an idiot will run it". I am watching this train wreck with amazement and disgust at the stupidity shown from both sides of the isle. We seriously need to idiot proof this country before we are all speaking Russian or Chinese.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 4 months ago

If the country were idiot proofed, it would be empty.

jayhawklawrence 4 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes the choices do not lead to a strategic advantage.

Sometimes the choices we make define what kind of human beings we are and whether we believe in a just God.

It is the covenant we made and this belief that defined our nation and justified our freedom. Christians understand this.

Freedom is not free.

We should support our President in this difficult time.

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