By Ian Swanson - 08/31/13 08:12 PM EDT
President Obama’s decision to ask Congress to authorize military strikes represents an enormous gamble for the White House that could have lasting repercussions for presidential power.
The British Parliament stunned United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday by rejecting his bid for approval of a military strike against Syria.
Cameron’s party controls the UK Parliament; Obama faces a divided Congress, with the House under the GOP’s control.
House Republicans, in particular, have opposed nearly all of the president’s domestic and foreign agenda, and Tea Party lawmakers have voiced skepticism of any foreign entanglements.
Opposition can also be expected from the anti-war left.
“There’s absolutely no question I would vote ‘no,’ because there’s so many questions even if the draft was not reinstated,” Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who has long called for the draft to be reinstated, told CNN Saturday shortly after Obama made his announcement.
Another risk for the administration is that by asking for authorization, Obama could see Congress attempt to put specific restrictions on the use of military force. Congress could write legislation to limit the U.S. mission, to restrict its timing or otherwise handcuff the president.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said those who use chemical weapons should be held accountable. But he offered no endorsement.
“Authorization for the use of force in this case should be contingent on the president setting clear military objectives that can meet articulated policy goals, including degrading any party's ability to use these weapons again,” he said.
A vote against military force would severely handicap Obama.
Though he said Saturday be believed he had the executive authority to order strikes on his own, it would be difficult for the president to act in the face of a congressional “no” vote.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) accused Obama of abdicating his responsibility. He said he feared Obama’s decision would undermine presidential power.
The White House is clearly doing everything it can to win votes in the House and Senate.
It has scheduled briefings for senators on Saturday and House members on Sunday to review U.S. intelligence the administration says offers incontrovertible proof that Syria used chemical weapons against civilians.
In the face of polls that show the public is cool to intervention, Obama on Saturday offered tough moral rhetoric — a sign he believes he can build public support for his cause given what he described as the worst chemical weapons attack in decades.
“What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?,” Obama asked in comments directed both at lawmakers and the public.
“What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?
“If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?” he continued. “We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.”
Rangel for one, rejected Obama’s moral argument for force in Syria, saying there was nothing in the Constitution that required the U.S. to rid the world of evil.
He also noted that the U.S. — and Obama — were relatively isolated in pressing for action on Syria.
“Under what authority do we place our young man and women in harm’s way without the UN national security, without the UN, without Great Britain, without France, without anybody supporting us?,” he asked.