Belmont Club

French Leave

And now France will reconsider the Syria operation. Reuters reports:  “France will not launch an assault on Syria alone and will wait for U.S. Congress to decide on whether to punish President Bashar al-Assad’s government for a gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.” In fact, the French president himself was under pressure to consult with parliament before deciding.

Valls made the comments on Sunday to Europe 1 radio as pressure mounted in France for President Francois Hollande to put the question of intervention to a parliamentary vote.

Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would meet with the heads of the two houses of parliament and the opposition on Monday to discuss Syria before a scheduled parliamentary debate on Syria on Wednesday.

But while the pressure to create consensus before acting builds, an article in the Wall Street Journal emphasized that Obama sought only his own counsel before deciding to grant Congress a role. It was almost as if he was granting Congress some of his personal authority as an act of generosity. “After a 45-minute walk Friday night, President Barack Obama made a fateful decision that none of his top national security advisers saw coming: To seek congressional authorization before taking military action in Syria.”

Until Friday night, Mr. Obama’s national-security team was focused on only consulting Congress, rather than seeking a vote on an authorization to use force. Mr. Obama’s team concluded that Mr. Obama had the legal authority to act without congressional authorization and was proceeding on that basis.

During his daily wrap-up meeting with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Mr. Obama and Mr. McDonough went on a 45-minute walk around the White House grounds.

During the walk, Mr. Obama told Mr. McDonough his thinking—that consulting with Congress wasn’t enough—lawmakers should have to go on the record one way or the other. …

The change in Mr. Obama’s thinking confounded White House insiders. Some raised concerns about the decision. They asked what would happen if Congress refused to authorize using force, a senior administration official said.

‘What happens’ in the light of the latest developments is that France may not go at all in that event. Although the ambiguous wording of the Reuters article does not settle whether France will absolutely require US Congressional approval before joining the operation or whether it will join an action authorized solely by executive authority, a prospect that arose when Fox News earlier reported that “one senior State Department official … told Fox News that the president’s goal to take military action will indeed be carried out, regardless of whether Congress votes to approve the use of force” it now seems inconceivable that Paris will openly take sides in a Constitutional dispute.  The French president is himself being reined in.

Whether Obama admits it or not, his leash has been pulled taut. He must get Congressional approval or it’s off. One problem the President will face is that he can no longer fob off the legislator’s questions. They will ask for names, dates, documents. They may even ask about Benghazi. Asking for permission will be a very uncomfortable experience for the man who was formerly above everything.

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