Washington, Sep 1 — After hinting at an imminent unilateral military strike at Syria, President Barack Obama in a surprise turnaround decided to seek the approval of US Congress for use of force against the Assad regime.
The United States “should take military action against Syrian targets” for its suspected use of chemical weapons in an Aug 21 attack on rebel controlled areas, he declared in a hurriedly arranged Rose Garden address Saturday with Vice President Biden standing by his side.
While he was as clear on the need for action, Obama said he would seek Congressional authorisation for the use of force, not because he has to – but because he wants to.
“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorisation, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” he said.
“We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”
The president said Congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote when they return to session Sep 9. But he did not say if he’d forgo a strike if Congress rejects his call to action.
The move came as Obama failed to find support at home and abroad for military action in a hurry even as he laid out afresh his administration’s case for a targeted military action against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Obama also made clear that this would not be an open-ended intervention, and the US “would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.”
“But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behaviour, and degrade their capacity to carry it out,” he said.
Appealing for congressional leaders to consider their responsibilities and values in debating US military action in Syria he said: “Some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.”
Hours later Obama sent a letter to the heads of the House and Senate asking Congress to adopt a resolution approving the use of military force “to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.”
Describing Obama’s new move as “one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency,” influential New York Times said he had “effectively dared lawmakers to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children with unconventional weapons.”
The Washington Post editorially endorsed the President’s move saying “Obama is right to wait for Congress.” The daily said it agreed with Obama that the US “must respond militarily to Syria’s Aug 21 gassing of its own people.”
“He also said he would seek congressional authorisation before proceeding.
We think that’s right, too, though the approach isn’t risk-free,”
Influential political news site Politico felt “Obama is staking his Syria strategy – and maybe more – on an unlikely ally: Congress.”
“A successful vote in Congress would strengthen Obama’s hand with both allies and enemies,” it said.
But on “the flip side: a losing vote could weaken the president ahead of debates on key domestic issues including the budget, debt ceiling, Obamacare funding and immigration.
“On the international stage, it could embolden Syria, Iran and other unfriendly countries.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])