Truman National Security Project

The Water’s Edge

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It used to be that partisan politics stopped at the water’s edge, Republican disdain for Bill Clinton and bi-partisan ambivalence for the second Iraq War changed that. President Barack Obama’s decision to go to congress for authorization to attack Syria has almost nothing to do with a legal argument, as administrations for the last 30+ years have sought to expand, rather than limit, the War Powers Act, and almost everything to do with politics.

It is a perfectly legitimate question to ask what the White House Chief of Staff and the President were drinking during their walk around the White House grounds Friday evening. Why would the president go ahead with this? He doesn’t need to (as he has said and Secretary Kerry repeated over and over yesterday), most of his advisors reportedly disagreed with him, and he may go ahead without authorization anyway, so why put the country/world through what is going to happen?

Having been too busy making Kiddush at Shabbat dinner Friday night to have attended the Oval Office meeting, I can only speculate. But, the rationale of America being stronger if we’re all in this together argument he made carries a lot of weight. While some have said it weakens the possibility of the President ordering a strike on Iran, should the time come, the reality is that there is precisely zero percent chance this (or any) Congress of the United States would ever impede or limit this (or any) president’s request to end Iran. But having been a member of congress during the ugliness of the war in Iraq, President Obama has recognized the president is more powerful whence doesn’t have congressmen debating him in public about military action. I also think this may be a little bit of “Chicago politics” at play with the president basically taunting congress to stop him from intervening in Syria (something they either have said, or in the end, all know to be the right thing to do).

He knows he wins this, and he wants to be able to turnaround in a few week, when we’re deep in budget and deficit talks, and be able to say “you guys CAN get your acts together to get something done, lets do it again”. Intervention in the Middle East is an awfully big thing to toy with, but my guess is the president is annoyed enough with congress that that rationale factored in to his decision.

Personally, I love the idea that President Obama could gain congressional authorization while he’s at the G-20 and use it as a monumental “mic-dropping, shoulder dusting” F U to Putin.

President Obama’s gamble – and that’s exactly what it is – to go to congress for authorization to proceed with an attack on Syria faces its first public hearing tomorrow at 2:30 ET as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) gavels the Senate Foreign Relations committee to order. President Obama’s unnecessary gamble will likely work out, but not before lunatics like Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) get to grandstand for the cameras (and Iowa caucus voters) for a while. Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel will appear together to provide unclassified justification and potential plans of an attack. On Wednesday, a closed press, classified hearing, will take place where beyond the view of cameras, thoughtful questions and useful answers may actually be exchanged. While the actual text of the resolution the committee would vote on-and when it may vote- are up in the air, it will be shocking and damaging were the committee to impede the president.

Thus far, bipartisan congressional leadership has either offered outright support for the president or remained “not-opposed” (Kentucky really knows how to pick senators!). It is unlikely that Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) or Lindsay Graham (R-SC) will actually vote against a resolution in the end, so something will pass the Senate. As for the House…between Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) pragmatism; Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) staunch support (along with the rest of the US government)for Israel and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) insistence that “Congress will rise to the occasion” in support of the president it seems unlikely that the “crazies” in the House will stop the passage of authorization. However, expect a great deal of grandstanding in the coming ten to fourteen days, giving bloggers and pundits plenty to yack about.

I personally hope that the President takes some time in the next week to speak directly to the American people either through a televised press conference or an Oval Office address. At some point ya gotta get Joe 6-pack on your side.

It may be two years, one hundred thousand deaths and a few weeks overdue, but America will intervene in Syria. One can only hope “intervention” will be more than the “limited, narrow” strikes discussed thus far.

Elie Jacobs is a Truman Political Partner. This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel