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Obama Will Go to Congress on Syria After All

Obama announced this afternoon that he will seek authorization from Congress for attacking Syria. Obviously, I was wrong in assuming that he wouldn’t. There’s no way to know if this would have happened without Cameron’s defeat earlier this week, but it’s good that it is happening. Here’s hoping that he will be rebuked in the same way Cameron was.

Based on what he said today, Obama doesn’t think that he has to go Congress, but he will do so anyway. The decision genuinely surprises me because there was obviously never any interest in the administration to seek authorization for the war in Libya, and administration lawyers devised the most risible justifications for why they didn’t need it. It would not have been difficult to do the same thing again. The odd thing about this is that the case for intervention in Libya was comparatively much stronger than the case Obama and Kerry have made this week for attacking Syria, but Obama is willing to gamble on rejection in Congress for the sake of launching a military strike that has no legal justification whatsoever.

Presumably, Obama is gambling that he can cow Congress into granting authorization by having publicly committed the U.S. to military action. When presidents have gone to Congress to seek this kind of authorization, they have typically received it and usually by a large margin. I am cautiously hopeful that there are enough members in the House at least that know how deeply unpopular war with Syria is that this will not be the case this time, but I fear that few Democrats will be willing to vote against the White House and too many Republicans will be only too happy to vote yes. If members of Congress judge the proposed attack in terms of U.S. interests or international law, they should definitely reject it. If they judge it in terms of bogus “credibility” arguments or an obsession with wounding Iran, I am less sure that most of them will vote no.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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