SYRIA AUGUST 31, 2013
Today, President Obama finally addressed the main question that has gripped this town on Syria: will he or won't he?
He will, as we knew he would. But now he has added for himself another hurdle on the road to Damascus: Congress.
Citing "some people's" reluctance to repeat the example of David Cameron losing control over his party in Parliament, Obama said, no, he was going to take this thing to Congress because we are a Constitutional democracy.
But Obama has clearly learned something from Cameron's blunder: he's not rushing this thing. Cameron was dealing with an incomplete Parliament, as some MPs just didn't bother to come back for the vote. He didn't spend the time laying out his case, lobbying and whipping the vote in to shape. Obama, by contrast, is not summoning Congress back early. He's scheduled a second briefing with lawmakers, and there have been reports that he is already personally lobbying the people in his party, like Carl Levin, who have been skeptical of intervention in Syria.
On one hand, this could be a wise move. It challenges Boehner, who sent Obama a letter earlier this week, demanding that the President consult Congress, to put his money where his mouth is. A debate in Congress when the issue has cooled a bit, and a vote on it spreads the responsibility for an otherwise politically miserable situation for Obama.
On the other hand, this has the potential of becoming one of those worst-case scenarios. What if, after all that ramp-up, after two press conferences by an icy hot Kerry, after releasing intelligence assessments to the press, and sending up trial balloons of potential military strategy to all the town's big papers, after Obama comes out on a holiday weekend and says that our country's credibility is on the line, what if, after all that, Congress doesn't authorize military action in Syria? That would really be, in the words of Vladimir Putin, "foolish nonsense."
In the Rose Garden today, Obama asked Congress, for the umpteenth time, to set aside partisan bickering for the sake of something bigger than themselves, saying that "some things are more important than partisan politics." But, given that this Congress can't pass a farm bill, how likely is that?