Putting aside the pros and cons of attacking Syria, a lot of people — and by that I mean the various and sun-dried pundits inside the Beltway — seem to be worried about what it will mean for the future of the presidency of Barack Obama and anyone else who should come after.
Frankly, it’s a silly argument to make, especially if you think that political considerations have always been in the mix when an administration decides to go to war, and this administration is no different. More’s the pity; there’s not a lot of attention paid to the actual consequences of unloading the 82nd Airborne on a country or the aftereffects on the soldiers and the families. But that’s usually left to the next guy.
At any rate, there’s a lot of faux hand-wringing over what a No vote will do for the image of President Obama. E.J. Dionne has gone so far as to say it will “incapacitate the president for three long years.” But if history is any guide, presidents who have lost votes on key issues in Congress have lived to fight another day and done pretty well after. Bill Clinton survived impeachment, and even George W. Bush managed to eke out a second term after his attempt to turn Social Security over to Wall Street died a quick and merciless death. And those guys had it easy compared to what President Obama has faced from a Republican Party that has objected to everything he’s done and threatened impeachment over his choice of breakfast cereal.
But what about on the international stage? What kind of leadership will we show the world if Congress says No? Well, it may surprise you to know that we’re not the only country in the world that has both the moral standing to condemn Syria’s government for its actions, nor are we the only country with the capability to do something about it. It can’t and it shouldn’t always be us.
This is not meant as giving Assad a free pass to go ahead and commit genocide because the United States is reluctant to launch a Cruise missile. But a lot of our allies remain to be convinced; they’ve been down this road with us before and they know what perils it brings. Kevin Drum sums it up well:
As for America’s ability to act in the world, I really doubt that this vote will be taken as much of a precedent. But if it were, the precedent it sets would be simple: the United States won’t undertake military action unless it’s so plainly justified that both parties are willing to support it. That would frankly be no bad thing. Unfortunately, once they get in office American presidents of both parties seem to find no end of wars to fight overseas. Reining them in a bit would be commendable.