Sunday, September 1, 2013

Attacking Syria: President Obama Strikes the Right Pose

President Obama has appeared to be weak-kneed in a lot of ways, but one could make the argument that he has been a forward-leaning and assertive foreign policy President, following - ironically - in his predecessor's footsteps. Examples of his foreign policy assertiveness include his doubling-down on Afghanistan, his push to overturn Gadaffi in Lybia, and of course his independent, personal decision to invade the home of - and kill - Osama Bin Laden.

Yet with the Syrian civil war, Obama has appeared to be twisting in the winds of foreign policy complexity.  It is with this backdrop that I think people are misconstruing his decision to allow Congress to officially give him approval to strike Syria militarily. While this approach appears to be yet another weak-kneed devolution toward a lack of personal conviction with Syria (what with his "red lines"), this strategy to go to Congress is the right move in more ways than one:

  • By asking for congressional approval, President Obama rightly ensures that the democratic process is engaged in this offensive maneuver.  Note: this is not a defensive strike that a Commander-in-Chief has the right to execute without said approval.  This is a choice that America is making based on our values and view of human rights.
  • Because this strike is specifically targeted to "punish" the use of chemical weapons, it is all the more powerful when the U.S. congress backs this strike, demonstrating that this is not just another weaponized U.S. President, but rather this is a country that uniformly denounces the use of WMDs and is willing to make it known that our values do, indeed, bleed beyond our borders.  
  • If the congress approves, it will be an assertion of a world power by its people, instead of a few forward-leaning politicians trying to get their party re-elected. The result of congressional approval will be telling Syria, our allies and our enemies that if you unite us as a country, we're still formidable, and a force to be reckoned with (ahem, Iran, Russia and China).
It's stunning how off-base otherwise reasonable and intelligent people like Steve Rattner appear to be about this decision (see his Twitter feed).  My suggestion is not to buy into the naysayers' conjecture that this shows weakness in the President. Yes, it does appear to re-enforce a pattern of weakness, but it's not.  It's actually going to be a great show of strength when it's approved.