A year ago, President Obama said he would seek Congressional authorization before striking Syria. So why are reports indicating that he might unilaterally strike Syria without securing authorization from Congress? That was then; this is now.
An MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer surveillance UAV
(image by U.S. Air Force, Public Domain)
The "mission" and scope of US actions in Iraq, under the pretense of pushing back against The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has already been greatly expanded in just a short period of time. The "mission" began in June as an operation to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces by sending 300 US military advisers to Iraq; less than two months later the Obama administration authorized airstrikes in Iraq "to protect American personnel" and "prevent"genocide," even while stating that "there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq." Then, barely more than two weeks later, on August 26, 2014, the US began reconnaissance flights over Syria, a clear indicator that airstrikes are soon to follow in order to deal with ISIS in Syria.
Interestingly, it was just a year ago that the administration was approaching Congress to ask for authority to strike Syria, but not for the purpose of containing ISIS, but to punish Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, for allegedly using chemical weapons in that country's civil war. Despite claims by the government that it had evidence implicating Assad in the attacks, the Obama administration flatly refused to honor a request by the Associated Press (AP) to provide some evidence to back up its claims. Now, in 2014, the US government not only finds itself allied with Assad against ISIS in Syria, there are reports that the US is sharing intelligence about ISIS targets with the Syrian government through intermediaries, though the US government has denied such claims.
What is perhaps most peculiar about this saga is that the US government in 2013 claimed to have "irrefutable" evidence that the regime of Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks, but apparently knew nothing about the rise of ISIS until relatively recently. Though there are reports by writers like Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, warned Obama about the risks of extremists gaining ground in Syria and repeatedly claimed that the "moderate" rebels needed arms, such claims are grossly exaggerated.
Much of Congress has done a complete 180 compared to the same time a year ago. In early September 2013, as Congress got closer to the vote on military action in Syria that never occurred, it became clear that the operation did not have the votes to pass, in spite of the uncritical support for military action by the top two members of the leadership of both parties in the House, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and outspoken opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has conveyed mixed messages ever since the 2014 operations in Iraq began. While she claims to oppose to any American "boots on the ground," she was adamant from the beginning in claiming that the Obama administration could act in Iraq without consulting Congress. At a press conference that took place a few days after Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq, she was asked about the concerns about "mission creep" of Democratic members like Barbara Lee of California, who has called for Congress to vote on continued military action in Iraq. Pelosi responded by saying that the concerns of Rep. Lee are shared in general by the Democratic caucus.
However, the evidence tells a different story. Despite the fact that the House passed a non-binding resolution on July 25 stating that the Congress must be involved in any potential deployment of US forces to Iraq, there has hardly been a coordinated demand by members of either party for such a vote to occur. Some Democrats, like Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia have publicly expressed their desire to have Congress involved in its Constitutional duties of making war.
However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee pushed back against Kaine by saying that he doesn't "think congressional approval is needed for the type of targeted airstrikes the president's conducting right now."
Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee took that assertion a step further and applied it to Syria which, unlike Iraq, does not have a government currently asking the US to intervene. Rep. Cohen said if Obama were to come to Congress to seek military action for airstrikes in Syria, "it'll just become a circus." If Congress makes a "circus" out of its Constitutional duties, that is its own prerogative. It is hardly an excuse to abrogate its responsibilities to the American people. Cohen also mentioned the possibility that Republicans would "find a way to oppose it." Cohen needs to be assured that in the event that Congress votes down an authorization to strike Syria it would probably not deter Obama anyway. Last year officials in the Obama administration flatly refused to clearly rule out the possibility of a strike in Syria if Congress voted it down.
No American should hold his or her breath in the hopes that Congress resumes its responsibilities. It is an election year so much of the Congress would rather sit on the sidelines than vote for another war that could quickly turn sour and therefore unpopular. Partisanship reigns supreme in this day and age, so the Democrats are not going to function as the opposition party even when President Obama, a Democrat, acts like a Republican. Instead, they will join Republicans in being apologists for war.