While protesting in Times Square Saturday, we listened amid the noise to Obama’s speech of mostly stick, and a little carrot. Some of the protesters took his “largesse” at offering Congress the chance to endorse his plan to attack Syria (the carrot) as a concession by Obama. They say we should seize the moment and “let Congress know” how many people are against this strike and potential regional war.
Congress knows, as they read the public opinion polls too, and there could be an actual political fight in Congress over Obama’s plan, leading to a political damage for his agenda. But, as John Kerry, the former anti-war veteran turned Secretary of ruling class warmongering said,
“We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does.”
That was the stick of Obama’s message, backed up by his assertion that as Commander in Chief, his military is ready today, tomorrow, or in the near future to strike.
It is true Obama is having difficulty selling the plan of Tomahawk missile strikes narrowly targeted at the Assad regime’s air power, as war-planners, other governments and political observers alike are questioning the inherent unpredictability and dangers Obama’s plan poses. But is his move toward Congress actually motivated by his respect for the “constitutional democracy” which is how he described the United States?
Larry Everest says in Lies to Justify an Immoral War:
What is going on here IS an exercise in democracy—but it is an exercise in capitalist-imperialist democracy, which is in essence the dictatorship of the imperialist ruling class. The Obama team felt it had the freedom, but also the NECESSITY, given the widespread public cynicism about yet another case of “slam dunk” evidence, yet another U.S. military adventure, and unresolved concerns in the ruling class over where an attack on Syria would lead, to give this speech and launch this process he calls for, along with a need to make a case to an international audience and push allies into line and deal with a complex international alignment of forces.
Dennis Loo describes Obama’s approach in O-bomb-a Syria as an exercise for public consumption:
When governments such as the U.S. decide to go to war, by the time that they announce publicly that they are seriously considering whether or not to launch the missiles and send the ships, etc., they have already behind closed doors decided to commence hostilities. Modern warfare requires months of painstaking, protracted, and laborious military planning and placing equipment and personnel in place. These logistical matters dictate that no government planning to launch aggressive war as the U.S. is doing is doing so only now because all of a sudden they have “discovered” that chemical weapons have been used. They have been placing assets in place for weeks and months ahead of time and drawing up attack plans for similarly long periods of time.
The public show of debating, discussing, and rattling the sabers are a PR exercise designed specifically to win over the public to supporting what the rulers have behind closed doors already determined is in their best interests to do.
I appreciated Glenn Greenwald’s wry take in Obama, Congress and Syria, too, although he doesn’t have the same critique of democracy:
It’s a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century.
David Swanson goes to an essential, systemic problem, in Caveman Credibility and its Costs, that whatever Congress does, it can’t establish legitimacy for US military action through a mere vote.
If Congress were to say yes, the war would remain illegal under both the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. And if Congress were to say no, President Obama has indicated that he might just launch the war anyway.
If you look at the resolution that Obama has proposed that Congress pass, it doesn’t grant permission for a specific limited missile strike on a particular country at a particular time, but for limitless warfare, as long as some connection can be made to weapons of mass destruction in the Syrian conflict. The White House has made clear that it believes this will add exactly nothing to its powers, as it already possesses open-ended authorizations for war in the never-repealed Afghanistan and Iraq authorizations, which themselves added exactly nothing to White House war powers, because the president is given total war power through the Constitution in invisible ink that only the White House can see.
The dangers here are obvious in the Obama strike, most especially to those under fire directly. I don’t agree with putting all our efforts — much less hopes — in Congress. The main factor in what the US empire is forced to do — whether it’s the talk shop of Congress, or the Commander in Chief — starts with what people living in this country think, and then do, in response to these outrageous war moves.
World Can’t Wait is posting key articles on the U.S. intervention against Syria. We call on everyone to join in mass protest.
Debra Sweet is the Director of World Can't Wait and blogs at debra.worldcantwait.net.