On Friday, he rolled out Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a moral and strategic call to arms and declare that a response was urgent.
But on Friday night, according to leaks from this leakiest of Administrations, the President changed his mind. A military strike was not so urgent that it couldn’t wait for Congress to finish its August recess and vote the week of its return on September 9. If the point of the bombing is primarily to “send a message,” as the President says, well, then, apparently Congress must co-sign the letter and send it via snail mail.
Congressional portrait with U.S. flag in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It’s hard not to see this as primarily a bid for political cover, a view reinforced when the President’s political consigliere David Axelrod taunted on Twitter that “Congress is now the dog that caught the car.” Mr. Obama can read the polls, which show that most of the public opposes intervention in Syria. Around the world he has so far mobilized mainly a coalition of the unwilling, with even the British Parliament refusing to follow his lead. By comparison, George W. Bush on Iraq looks like Metternich.
But what does anyone expect given Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy leadership? Since he began running for President, Mr. Obama has told Americans that he wants to retreat from the Middle East, that the U.S. has little strategic interest there, that any differences with our enemies can be settled with his personal diplomacy, that our priority must be “nation-building at home,” and that “the tide of war is receding.” For two-and-a-half years, he has also said the U.S. has no stake in Syria.
English: Former President George W. Bush looks out over the U.S. Capitol as his helicopter departs Washington on January 20, 2009, for Andrews Air Force Base following the inauguration ceremonies for President Barack Obama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The real political surprise, not to say miracle, is that after all of this so many Americans still support military action in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons—50% in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll. Despite his best efforts, Mr. Obama hasn’t turned Americans into isolationists.
A Congressional vote can be useful when it educates the public and rallies more political support. A national consensus is always desirable when the U.S. acts abroad. But the danger in this instance is that Mr. Obama is trying to sell a quarter-hearted intervention with half-hearted conviction.