Now that President Obama has decided to seek authorization for a Syrian strike from Congress, there is much talk about how Republicans must preserve the credibility of the United States, and avoid weakening the presidency, by giving Obama what he wants, perhaps after trimming back the powers sought in his draft resolution a bit. If Congress refuses him, the thinking goes, America will be embarrassed before the entire world, and the power of the Presidency will be diminished forevermore.
You can count me among the people who think the power of the Presidency sorely needs diminishing, especially after Obama spent the last four years fashioning a presidential super-hero costume and sending us the trillion-dollar bill for his cape and boots. I believe in the careful balance of power set forth by our Constitution. It’s long past time for the shriveled legislature to assert its authority, and demonstrate itself something other than a chronically inflamed appendix to the muscular body of executive and judicial power. I defy anyone to read the writings of our Founders and conclude they wanted to set up a rubber-stamp legislature whose primary purpose is rallying public support for executive decrees with symbolic votes of approval.
As for the hypothetical damage to American credibility and prestige: that’s one hundred percent Barack Obama’s fault, and no one should be allowed to forget it. He’s the one who drew those “red lines” – verbiage his aides have been privately admitting was ad-libbed by the President. More to the point, he’s the one who spent a few weeks setting up his big cowboy executive unilateral strike, and then changing his mind at the last minute. He could have gone to Congress on Day One, before the Labor Day holiday complicated the calendar. Instead, he spent the time acting like a tough guy who didn’t give a rat’s rear end what those roadblocking, gridlocking, do-nothing congressional Republicans thought. It was an acute attack of Obama’s arrogant “I won” syndrome, an expression of his self-image as a colossus bestriding the world, rather than the chief executive of a republic.
His arrogance is compounded because there’s a very good chance he would have gotten the congressional approval he sought. If anything, his odds have grown worse due to the way he handled this, and the painfully obvious role played by the British Parliament, which showed the world how war-making powers are supposed to be exercised. We’re down to the “don’t make Obama look bad” argument for Syrian intervention, which is one of the worst arguments anyone could ever advance for a military intervention. I don’t recall any of the many Democrats who voted for the invasion of Iraq citing a desire to avoid making George Bush look bad as their primary motivation.
I’m more than a little annoyed at the implied suggestion that allowing American government to function as it was designed to function sends a bad signal to the world, or makes us look weak and indecisive. Our political leadership should have more faith in the system they serve. What kind of signal is their obvious lack of faith sending to the bad guys, not to mention the suffering masses around the globe who look to America for inspiration? Does anyone truly believe that if Congress votes “no” on Syria, it means America would be paralyzed with indecision in the face of a direct attack on our people or interests – a situation in which the executive branch does have latitude to respond immediately, for very sensible reasons? We should be teaching the world how America works, not sending the message that our Great Men believe it doesn’t work, and must therefore take important matters into their own hands.