Obama Asks Congress For Permission To Bomb Syria

UPDATE: CBS4 Denver has a new report on fresh skepticism from Rep. Mike Coffman today, including an interesting new possible GOP line of attack: should Obama not have gone to Congress then?

Coffman says the delay in striking Assad has wasted precious time.

“The Assad government has had all the time in the world to move their assets around so they don’t present themselves as easy targets,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

Coffman is not gung-ho for a strike. Not until it’s proven to him it would not lead to a protracted military engagement. He also wonders if Assad is chased from power, what then?

This wouldn't be the first time President Obama has been damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, of course.

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US Navy photo

US Navy photo

As the Washington Post reports:

Syria on Sunday gloated over a "historic American retreat," deriding President Barack Obama for his decision to delay what had appeared to be imminent military strikes and dealing a further blow to U.S. credibility among the Syrian opposition and its allies.

The announcement Saturday by Obama that he would seek congressional approval for any U.S. military intervention in Syria, effectively pushing back any potential strike for at least 10 days, was seized upon by Syrian officials and state media, presenting it as a victory for the regime…

Back on the home front, there's bipartisan support in the Colorado congressional delegation for President Barack Obama's choice to seek congressional approval ahead of any military action by the United States against Syria, though from our read of the statements issued by lawmakers, considerably less evident appetite for actually going to war. Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps. Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, applauded the president's plan to put the matter before Congress.

"I approve of the president consulting with Congress and seeking congressional support on this important issue. I will be gathering many facts before making any decision," Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, wrote in an email to The Gazette.

Bennet, a Democrat, also stressed in a statement to The Gazette the need for Congress to weigh its options carefully.

"Syria's use of chemical weapons is deplorable. Congress will review the evidence presented by the administration and hold a serious debate about options," he wrote. "We must consider the enormous challenges in the region and the complexity of the situation that includes a military already stretched thin, a nation in civil war, and a region in transition."

9NEWS carried reaction from Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis: 

Congressman Ed Perlmutter released the following statement after the president's remarks on Syria:

"I agree with President Obama on his decision to provide information to the American people about the horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria that killed at least a thousand innocent people including hundreds of children. It's important for Congress to assess this information and discuss what actions are appropriate to deter this kind of massacre in the future. As the President suggested, any action must be targeted and limited in scope."

Congressman Jared Polis released the following statement after the president's remarks on Syria:

"I look forward to studying the issue, understanding the case that the President makes, and making an informed vote. This is a serious responsibility, and since the President has chosen to consult us I will provide the best possible guidance to the President that I can in the form of my vote and advice regarding Syria."

Rep. Mike Coffman, via the Denver Post's Allison Sherry earlier in the week:

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, said he wouldn’t support extended involvement since the United States is not “in danger of an imminent attack.”

“I will support the president should he conduct a limited strike on Syria in order to deter (Syrian President) Assad from further use of chemical weapons, but I would not support involvement beyond that because this is an intractable sectarian struggle,” Coffman said.

We haven't seen a statement from Sen. Mark Udall since President Obama's speech this weekend, but as reported Wednesday:

"The president needs to explain his plan to the American people, who are understandably reluctant to support further military engagement in the Middle East. I have real concerns that any surgical strike could lead us into deeper involvement in a complicated civil war, but last week's attacks — and the Syrian regime's years-long war against its people — demonstrate that staying on the sidelines may carry risks just as grave," Udall said.

Rep. Cory Gardner:

"I am glad that President Obama has decided to seek Congressional approval before any military action is taken in Syria. Allegations of chemical weapons use are extremely troubling, but the Constitution rightfully requires that any action taken by the US military receive Congressional approval.

"Committing to place our men and women in harms way is not something to be taken lightly. I will weigh the full evidence available and make a determination once I believe I have the information necessary to make an informed decision in the best interests of the United States."

Rep. Scott Tipton sounds a bit skeptical about the President's decision to ask for permission:

I'm pleased the President is seeking Congressional authorization for the use of military force. There may be a difference however between 'seeking' versus 'asking' for Congressional authorization, and before the President proceeds with any action, I hope that he will allow for equal debate in both the House and Senate on his plan and ultimately adhere to the outcome of the votes we will take.

But interestingly, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette's statement seems the most skeptical of the actual proposal to go to war:

I welcome the President's decision to ask for congressional authority for the use of military force against the Syrian government. Although it is the President's duty to protect our national security, Congress has the constitutional responsibility and power to approve the use of military force, even if the United States or our interests have not been attacked.

Bottom line: the President's decision to ask permission before engaging in military action in Syria is extremely risky from a foreign policy viewpoint, as it leaves a decision as consequential as military action to the whim of perhaps the world's most famously dysfunctional body. The constitutional debate over the President's authority to take any military action without consulting Congress is unresolved, and the Obama administration has already tested the limits by committing American forces to action over Libya two years ago without congressional approval.

On the other hand, if Congress, particularly the GOP-controlled House, fails to deliver the authorization Obama is looking for, that could be powerful political ammunition for the president in his long fight against partisan obstruction. We shouldn't have to remind readers that Republicans and the institution of Congress as a whole are losing that fight, as evidenced by the body's historically low approval ratings. Will it take a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, one that could have been prevented by Congress taking action, to demonstrate to the public that Congress is no longer capable of doing its job?

These questions will factor heavily, rightly or wrongly, while debating the original point of whether to go to war.

46 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavieDavie says:

    Pols — I have a minor disagreement.  The debate is not whether to go to war. It's about deterring those possessing, or seeking to possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from believing their use will not be punished.

    As the President stated: 

    "This attack is an assault on human dignity," he said. "It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria's borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.

    "In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted."

    Even the Denver Post got it right in their editorial.  If the GOP-controlled House fails to support the president's plan, then it's on them.  I do think it will be an odd-couple coalition in the House (and even Senate) that will ultimately pass a supporting resolution.  But I have pretty high expectations that both McConnell and Boehner's leadership skills will leave the public unimpressed.

    • BlueCat says:

      From a political, not foreign policy point of view (and I think it's pretty obvious there aren't any good foreign policy options available and hardly even any less bad ones so the political becomes the more immediately significant arena here) it's interesting to see so many Republicans forced to use words such as agree with, approve ofwelcome, support, etc. in connection with President Obama. They will no doubt want to spin this as a triumph over the President (he's bowing to them in congress etc.) but being on record on the same side as Obama and so many Dems where any decision is concerned must be quite painful. 

      Bet we'll be hearing no such kind words from Rush or Palin and few on the far rightie blogs or from the fringiest members of congress. What's a rightie base wacko to make of it?

      • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

        Unbeleivably, the far rightie base wacko's take on the issue of limited strikes against Syria is: Support Assad. He likes Christians. 

        The far right is also, of course, generating conspiracy theories about how the chemical weapons attacks (Sarin and incendiaries) are the work of rebels, or at least US allies. Russia is right there with them – talk about strange bedfellows.

        Kerry's evidence on the attacks coming from Assad seemed pretty solid to me. 

        When I see the video below, I want to do something to stop the horror. It's hard to know where to start. 

         

        • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

          Mama,

          I had a long conversation this morning with a couple of young , Muslim, men (one, a Palistinian whose family has moved to Jordan and another who is from Kurdistan). They don't believe the gas was delivered by the rebels. I asked them why and they said it was because of the nature of the victims…mostly women and children. The men from that neigborhood are almost entirely rebel fighters who were not there because they are out, fighting the troops. These young men have a very low opinion of Assad. 

           

        • BlueCat says:

          Saddam Hussein was nice to Christians too but you didn't hear much support for him from the wacko right back then. Admittedly the wackos back then were nothing compared to the latest version. And, speaking of gas, we obligingly supplied him with it.

          Yes the deaths by Sarin are awful but so many more have been and will be killed in Syria by the usual means no matter what we do or don't do including a full scale boots on the ground invasion.  

          Our invasion and occupation of Iraq and the ensuing long multi-faceted wars caused more civilian deaths than Hussein at his worst so the humanitarian reasons get seriously muddied.  Is just being able to say we said we'd punish you for crossing this line and we're keeping our promise enough? Because I don't see what else we're going to get. 

          We need to know exactly what we're going for here and what are the chances of achieving whatever that is. If it's just dropping some bombs to keep our word about the red line, maybe that's worth doing. Credibility matters. But let's not kid ourselves that it's going to save any children's lives. Most of the dead Syrian children so far were not killed by gas. 

  2. Gray in Mountains says:

    one word will get overwhelming support for the President to act. Israel

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    ". . . The issue before this august body is quite simple, which course of action as a choice do we make when the only choices to be made are bad ones — and not making any choice is, itself, just another bad choice??? . . ."

  4. Albert J. Nock says:

    Politicians always use war in an attempt to solve economic depressions…

     

    • BlueCat says:

      Not anymore. The Cheney/Bush war had the opposite effect as the first war coupled with slashed, not raised, taxes along with unprecedented outsourcing to the private war profiteer sector inflating the cost astronomically and putting it all on a tab.

  5. Smoking MirrorSmoking Mirror says:

    I am quite surprised and immensely pleased that the president has chosen to seek the backing of Congress for the action he desires to take.  Whatever motivated him to consult with Congress, I applaud the decision.

    I fervently hope he is soundly rejected, but I expect to be disappointed.  I am contacting my rep and senators to let them all know my opposition to military action.  A pretty small act but it is the least I can do.  Unfortunately, I suspect it is also the most I can do.

  6. Albert J. Nock says:

    I  want to know what the Federal Government is doing to protect Americans from Fukushima.  Imports and Ocean plume appear to be a possible hazard of high probability. Furthermore but not likely, waste could be used as a weapon, either from a National level or renegade/terrorist type scenario.

    You could probably park an oil tanker outside the Fukushima reactor and fill it with release water, then ram it into an America coast somewhere populated or sink it strategically.

    Seems like Fukushima is more volatile than Syria?  I am sure guv has it under control; I just can't find our action plan? Is there a resource?

    • Ralphie says:

      Self-reliance and personal responsibility, Nockster.  Why do you need big government to protect you?  Protect your damned self.

    • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

      Japan is trying to remediate the area around Fukushima, unlike what Russia did with Chernobyl.  I bet that Japan will need the Japanese equivalent of a "Fed" to do it. Government guaranteed loans, yay! Just yanking your chain, Nock.

      Russia, of course, has vastly more land that could be abandoned; Japan is an archipelago of islands. Literally, nowhere to go. That is, of course, the problem with all nuclear waste and byproducts. Nowhere to store it, nowhere it isn't in the ecosystem somehow.

      More volatile than Syria? not hardly. Just another longterm environmental disaster.  Hundreds of people, animals and ecosystems slowly dying and mutating over hundreds of years, rather than Assad vs. rebels vs. Israel vs. Hezbollah vs. Russia vs. US airstrikes resulting in thousands more deaths in a relatively short period of time.

      I'm not going to mock you bringing up an unrelated topic on this thread, since everyone on here, including me, does that sometimes. But I do think your worry about some terrorist filling up a tanker (undetected??) and piloting it to an American shore to dump it (undetected??) is  absurd. I see legitimate concerns about Fukushima contaminated water leakage on certain right wing forums, but terrorists exporting tankers of it? Not bloody likely.

      The  companies (Tokyo Electric Power, Daichi,) that faked reports and ignored warnings at Fukushima power plant, and GE that designed the reactors,  are terrorist enough for everyone. Yet I don't notice you calling for these companies to clean up their mess – it seems to be the government's problem. Private enterprise must be unfettered?

       

    • Ah! The Plume!

      Note to the unaware: the plume of radioactive material that reaches US shores will be so diluted that we'll have to gather barrels of seawater in order to detect a single particle from Fukishima. There's no mitigation to be done there.

      In the meantime, sit back and let the Japanese government take over from the butt-covering TEPCO execs.

  7. notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

    It's the people on the right side of the aisle in Congress who have been pounding the war drums, so I think asking them for their blessing was a brilliant move on POTUS' part. The only thing I like more is him delegating the two loudest hawks, Graham and McCain, to go sell his plan to their fellows. What the Righties hate most about this President is that he's a consumate politician and can beat them at their own game.

     

     

    • notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

      consummate. I can spell, honest, I can.

       

       

      • horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

        I agree notaskinnycook.  Obama is consulting Congress not really because he has to, but because politically he wants to put them on record for being either clearly for or against attacking Syria.  Otherwise the R assholes in Congress will endlessly play both sides like the useless pieces of shit they are.

        That being said, I really wish wouldn't get involved.  There are so many atrocities in the middle east, and I a pretty much believe there always will be.  No amount of intervention will do anything about the hatred and ignorance in peoples minds there.

  8. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    I want to hear what Senator Udall and Rep Polis have to say. I trust them to speak honestly and to make an informed and reasonable decision. And they have my best wishes as this is a really hard problem with no clear solution.

    • GalapagoLarryGalapagoLarry says:

      I'm less interested in what our "leaders" say than that they listen to what we  American citizens say. Yes, we're all over the map on this, but but the last time we left it up to our leaders, they got it really, really wrong. We may never reach a consensus, but eventually an American majority opinion will emerge. This time, our leaders had better follow.

  9. skeptical citizen says:

    Coffman's statement about Syria from his web page:

    (Washington, DC) Since the United States is not in danger of an "imminent attack" the President must follow the Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973 and come to the Congress for support before going forward with a military strike of any kind.  August 29, 2013

    Yet now he has flipped 180 after Obama has done exactly what he wished only 4 days ago? Shades of the highly political New Mike / Old Mike.

  10. James DoddJADodd says:

    It doesn't matter how many votes Obama gets from Congress, what he is planning is illegal under the UN charter and international law. He is merely making the Congress critters complicit in his international vigilantism. 

    • Littletonian says:

      They'll say no.

    • So was the action of whoever launched that chemical munition. Which is most important? Getting UN sanction (that we won't get, given Russia's steadfast support of Syria) and following "the law", or standing up against mass murder? We stood by too long through Rwanda's bloody massacre and said we shouldn't wait the next time. We dawdled with Sudan, and partly that was because nothing was ever overwhelming in the press. We have neither excuse for Syria.

      • James DoddJADodd says:

        Two wrongs don't make a right. I can't believe this group of "progressive" war mongers.

      • James DoddJADodd says:

        Don't throw that "mass murderer" term around to easily. A case could be made that Obama's drone campaign makes him a mass murder and war criminal. Assad is clearly a bad man and what he has done is horrendous,  but we allowed this to happen and now we're surprised and horrified. We seem to do nothing then send in the Marines. I refuse to support this kind of foreign policy just because Obama is doing it.

  11. ClubTwitty says:

    Its  madness.  Ironically Obama mentioned in his speech that we cannot live by the creed of 'might makes right' and thus we must go bomb a sovereign nation halfway around the world in a unilateral operation to enforce 'international norms' (although we routinely ignore or discount many others–like bombing families with drones, spying on the UN and diplomats, on and on–the world Mr. Obama is setting up is not tenable and not moral.  We are no longer the moral leader of the world, the world is now multilateral and there is enough understanding of our decades of real politick to have tarnished that ‘city on the hill’ myth a long time ago across much of the world, especially the Middle East.  We may have the biggest baddest most obscenely sized military ever in the history of the world, but 1) that may not last forever, it seldom does (i.e. never has); and 2) as the President says “might doesn’t make right.” 

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      The more I think about this the more I'm coming around to your point of view. If the U.N. votes to punish Syria, then we have a reason to go ahead. But doing it on our own – the bad outweighs the good.

      • The UN is the Imperial Senate – powerless, stuck in purposefully quagmired debate, and governed by a set of rules and a coalition that rarely ever agrees on anything and so accomplishes nothing. It's only marginally better than the League of Nations that preceded it.

        • James DoddJADodd says:

          The reason Russia and China can veto Security Council action is that we – the US – insisted on having such power. Just like the fact that the Democrats in the Senate won't effectively fix the filibuster because they are afraid that they won't be able to thwart majority rule if Republicans gain control of the Senate.

  12. ClubTwitty says:

    end parens as follows:

    (although we routinely ignore or discount many others–like bombing families with drones, spying on the UN and diplomats, on and on–the world Mr. Obama is setting up is not tenable and not moral).  We are no lon – See more at: http://coloradopols.com/diary/48646/obama-asks-congress-for-permission-to-bomb-syria#comment-523964

  13. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    Hmmm, if Congress will not act, I wonder if POTUS could use an Executive Order to send Congress to Damascus, thereby incapacitating the Syrian regime and producing a solution that will play well, both at home and abroad?

  14. Littletonian says:

    How is it that Obama thinks we can conduct a bombing or missile strike of Syria without engaging in war with that country?

    If we attack Syria, there will be retaliation – against Americans in the Middle East, against any remaining pro-American factions in Syria, and just maybe by "terrorists" against targets in the United States. ("Terrorists" in quotes here as I'm suggesting a collection of non-state actors, thought the word "terrorist" seems strong as a name for someone retaliating against a premeditated bombing or missile strike of his/her home country).

    The political calculation here is pretty transparent: Obama has cold feet re: the strike and can't flip-flop on all the hawkish statements he's made to the international press. Congressional denial of his proposal gives him an out. He's banking on obstructionist Republicans and peace-loving Democrats to shut this down so that he can salvage his credibility internationally. It's going to make the administration look anemically weak here at home, though.

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      It's going to make the administration look anemically weak here at home, though.

      Yes and no. It makes our Democracy look strong. We are bound by the rule of law and the checks and balances built into our system. These are strengths vs. a dictatorship, not weaknesses.

    • BlueCat says:

      Leaving the question of what Obama thinks will happen after a bomb strike, we've been going to war altogether without technically going to war  ever since the close of WWII,  the last time a Declaration of War was issued and that was in 1941. 

      Technically everything that has walked and talked like a war from Korea to Iraq has not been a declared war and Congress seems to have been quite content to allow this fiction to be perpetrated in order to escape ultimate responsibility.

      Of course it's a fiction so thin that everyone from the President on down does indeed refer to these military actions as big "W" Wars.  They tried to call Korea a police action but it never really caught on. Had Congress always stood firm and insisted on its right to declare war and refused to allow wars to take place without any such declaration, the choice wouldn't be Obama's to make today. 

      Presidents are going to push their executive power as far as they can. It's Congress that has failed to insist on it's war powers out of political cowardice all these decades so their complaints ring pretty hollow now. And aren't some Rs even now crying "no fair" that Obama has put them on the spot by referring the question to Congress? Saying  that doing so is a political ploy (which, of course, it is)? Aren't some Dems who oppose military action also complaining about the tough spot in which this puts them?  Trust me, pols in Congress are the last ones who want  real war powers back. 

      They like it the way it is which allows them to engage in chest thumping theater making noises about their rights without having to actually stand up and take responsibility for the exercise of those rights and the ensuing consequences

       

  15. horseshit GOP front grouphorseshit GOP front group says:

    We absoultely should not go.  Its only another round of why isn't America doing something while our children are murdered/when will the imperialist Americans stop bombing our country, and in the end, the regime that replaces Assad will be far worse.

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