Michael Gerson’s argument for supporting the Syria resolution is characteristically terrible:
Legislators are not arguing between preferred policy options, as they would on issues such as health care or welfare. They are deciding if they will send the chief executive into the world with his hands tied behind his back [bold mine-DL]. This would be more than the repudiation of the current president; it would be the dangerous weakening of the presidency.
Insofar as the ability of future presidents to wage wars of choice on their own authority would be limited or even slightly constrained by a no vote from Congress, that would be a welcome and very desirable outcome. Gerson is drawing attention to one of the possible benefits of the resolution’s defeat. Even so, the president would retain enormous latitude in the conduct of foreign policy, and he would he hardly have his “hands tied behind his back.” It is laughably false to claim that the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy or his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces would be seriously impaired, and it could hardly be dangerous for the powers of the presidency to be restrained after growing virtually unchecked over the last forty years.
Gerson’s argument is an attempt to blackmail members of Congress by claiming that they will inflict massive institutional damage simply by carrying out their own constitutional responsibilities and by reaching a conclusion different from the one Gerson wants. It is a fairly desperate move, and it is the sort of argument that should make more members of Congress recoil from what they are being asked to support. Gerson is horrified that Congress might actually vote down unnecessary and deeply unpopular military action, which speaks volumes about his priorities. Americans should not be afraid to let their representatives do the work they were elected to do by speaking and voting on behalf of their constituents. In this case, that obviously means voting down the resolution, and that is what I hope most members will do when it comes up for a vote later this month.
There is no way to know what long-term effect the defeat of the Syria resolution might have on the actions of future presidents, and it is even less certain how other governments would interpret a Congressional rejection of the resolution. It is always possible that other presidents will view this episode as proof that going to Congress is an avoidable risk that they won’t want to take, in which case it will result in the opposite of what many opponents of the resolution prefer. On the other hand, some may take it as a reminder that presidents should not propose taking military action without having a much stronger case for doing so than Obama has, and that could make future administrations more reluctant to wage unnecessary wars.