Sunday, September 01, 2013

Too Small a Step Back from War

The President finally admits he wants to attack Syria but will ask Congressional permission to do it.

“I’m prepared to give that order,” he says. “But having made my decision as commander in chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interest, I’m also mindful that I’m president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

In acknowledging uncertainty among Americans and allies, Barack Obama is taking a small step back from unilateral executive action that has become the norm over decades.

In doing so, he is vindicating a recent book by my college classmate Marvin Kalb, “The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed,” tracing a trend of American wars without formal declarations by Congress since Pearl Harbor.

This summer, Kalb presciently suggested we “think about what’s now happening in Syria. The president has said he will now give arms to the good guys in Syria. What is to stop the president tomorrow from saying, ‘You know, we’ve tried this business of giving them arms. It didn’t work. So let’s put troops in or let’s begin to bomb.’ In other words, let’s go in big time. Just think of it: Who is going to say, ‘Hey wait, a minute. Not a terribly good idea, Mr. President?’”

Something is askew when taking the nation into war with no bipartisan approval, no clear goals and no exit strategy is considered permissible, let alone normal.

“I know well we are weary of war,” President Obama said yesterday. “We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military.”

Then why, in the name of all that Americans across the political spectrum hold dear, do it or ask Congress to share the responsibility?

Whether the man in the White House is Barack Obama or George W. Bush, the answer should be no.

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