Why Obama Won’t Go to Congress
Jack Goldsmith seems shocked by Obama’s willingness to launch a unilateral and unauthorized attack on Syria:
This is very dangerous territory for the President. Forget the Constitution for a moment. Why won’t the President pay the same respect to American democracy that David Cameron paid to British democracy?
The answer is that he doesn’t think he needs to go to Congress for the same reason that he didn’t think he needed to do that two years ago. If this White House could concoct an absurd legal theory that eight months of bombing another country didn’t constitute “hostilities,” is it likely to think that a week of cruise missile strikes requires Congressional approval? Obama certainly forgot the Constitution two years ago, and for a lot longer than a moment, and he appears to be ready to forget it again. He does this because he can, and because he assumes that no one will hold him accountable for it. It’s only “dangerous territory” if there are serious consequences, and Obama’s experience from two years ago tells him that there won’t be. In other words, he won’t pay that respect because he assumes he can get away with not paying it, and he has yet to be proven wrong.
If Obama doesn’t think he is legally required to go to Congress, wouldn’t it still make sense politically to involve Congress and get their backing for his attack? It might seem so, but the case for the attack is so weak that it wouldn’t withstand much public scrutiny, much less debate in both houses. Because the proposed military action is supposed to be brief and limited, Obama probably sees going to Congress as a useless headache and unnecessary complication. Of course, it shouldn’t matter whether he feels like doing it. Unlike Cameron, he is obliged to do this when he plans to initiate hostilities against another state. It is up to members of Congress and the public to make him fulfill that obligation. Unless that happens, Obama will go ahead with the attack as if Congress is irrelevant because it will have proven itself to be exactly that.