President Barack Obama decided the crisis in Syria, which he called “the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century”, required delay rather than action.
In asking for the US Congress to approve the bombing of Syria, Mr Obama reset the notion of presidential authority about war powers that had increasingly resided with the executive branch since the end of World War II.
It also represents one of the greatest gambles of his presidency in that he is seeking the approval from a Congress that, at least in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, has fought him at every turn on a wide range of subjects.
Mr Obama’s conviction on Saturday and the moral outrage expressed by Secretary of State John Kerry just a day before suggest they believe, having seen all of the evidence and not simply the declassified portion that lawmakers have seen, that they will win the debate once Congress is fully informed.
White House officials said the President was shifting the burden to members of Congress, who have been long on criticism and short on solutions as he faces a crowded agenda in the fall that includes the implementation of his healthcare law.
The authority of the US Senate and House in matters of war was debated intensely before the second conflict in Iraq. Then senators, Vice President Joe Biden, Mr Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel all became critics of the war who said President George W. Bush had overstepped his authority. Mr Obama’s criticism helped propel his election to the Senate and, eventually, the White House.
In an interview with the Boston Globe in 2007, Mr Obama was asked in what circumstances, if any, a president would have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of- orce authorisation from Congress.
“The president does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Mr Obama said.
His decision marks a rare moment in the last half century when a president unilaterally decided to give some power back.
“It’s quite uncertain what a military strike is going to produce,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. “He really shouldn’t go it alone. It’s wise to bring Congress into it. It gets him much more of a broad consensus.”
Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and former chairman of the US House foreign affairs and intelligence committees, said the decision will help Mr Obama “in the country”.
“You will have the support of the Congress, which shares the burden. It will help him internationally, which will see the country is united,” said Mr Hamilton.
Yet Mr Obama’s words almost undercut the sense of indignation that he and Mr Kerry expressed less than 24 hours before, and at the same time put new pressure on Republicans in Congress, who had been urging military force even as they had taken no responsibility for it with a vote. Professional military officers at the Pentagon were also said to be lukewarm about the mission.
Now the administration has the task of persuading Republicans, especially those who represent a more isolationist and libertarian strain on international affairs, to support a limited military strike.
His decision also puts him more squarely in line with his rhetoric as a US senator and as a presidential candidate in 2008.
“History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorised and supported by the legislative branch,” Mr Obama said in the 2007 Boston Globe interview.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….