Approval-Seeking on Syria

By Dr Russell K. Bentley, Politics & International Relations

President Obama’s 31 August statement about the Syrian crisis makes the best of a situation presenting him with only bad alternatives. Obama has never wanted to be drawn into the conflict and the American people are certainly not minded to go to war yet again in circumstances that most of them do not clearly understand, do not see as directly connected to any American interests, and that does not present any clear end. Therefore, the president has, in effect, punted. Saying that he will seek authorisation from Congress before committing US forces – while simultaneously ruling out American ‘boots on the ground’ – means that he is going to hand the decision over to representatives who are themselves sceptical of any more foreign adventures. But Obama says contradictory things: he insists that the US will respond with military force to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, but also wants authorisation from Congress. Can he have it both ways? If Congress withholds authorisation, will Obama still launch some military assault? If so, what purpose is Congress serving? Congress does not return from its summer recess until 9 September, but the debate will begin before legislators get back to their Capitol offices. How that debate will go – and how the president’s gambit of going to Congress for approval will play out – has yet to be seen. However, it does get Obama off the hook of having to do anything immediately about his ‘red line’ statements regarding Syria. For the Syrian regime’s part, it isn’t likely that Bashar al-Assad will see this move as particularly unsettling.

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