Shorter Obama: On Syria, I Vote 'Present'
President Obama delivered an astonishing speech on Syria in the Rose Garden this afternoon. The Syrian government apparently crossed the "red line," using chemical weapons against civilians on August 21. Ten days later, Obama stepped forward to articulate his plan...to delay any American response until at least September 9. That's when Congress returns to Washington, at which time, the president said today, in his hectoring tone, he will take military strikes on Syria up for debate and a vote.
Consulting Congress and getting its approval is the right thing to do, unless a threat is so imminent that the president does not have time. That is not the case in Syria. The alleged chemical attack is already 10 days old. Obama should have sought authority to strike before launching the air war in Libya. He did not, and went on to conduct military operations beyond his statutory war powers. In the case of Syria's use of chemical weapons, the groundwork for congressional approval should have begun August 22nd, not August 31st. Actually, it should have begun in 2012.
Now we're left with a strange timetable. Secretary of State John Kerry made a strong case Friday that Syria's actions represent a significant enough threat to America's national security that we must act. Most Americans do not agree, but Kerry was delivering the Obama administration's urgent position on Syria. But later Friday and especially today, President Obama poured cold water on the idea that there could be very much urgency to the threat. It certainly is not imminent. If it was, the missiles would be flying. Obama has just given Assad another fortnight to move his SCUDs and other potential targets, and line up his responses should the U.S. attack.
Additionally, Kerry's statements this week did not appear to move the needle with Congress or the public. Odds are that another week plus of no action will not raise the appetite for military action.