If only there were some way of portraying this differently – if the President hadn’t spent the last three months making dreadful decisions relative to the whole NSA controversy, it wouldn’t seem like such a personal thing, Congress taking him up on the opportunity to vote on the Syria involvement and voting against. But since Obama spent all that time hunkering down and making the US look like exactly the kind of maximum security lockdown state his detractors think it is…well, there’s really no way an Obama loss on this issue can be spun as some kind of a victory for the President.
And yet, I would argue that’s exactly what it would be. The President losing on the Syria vote, and accepting the loss rather than proceeding with the strikes anyway, would be a massive victory for democracy. It would be the first concrete evidence his administration has offered, indeed, that his detractors are wrong about America being that kind of maximum security lockdown state. Such a country would never have even allowed the vote. As libertarians and anarchists never tire of saying: “If voting mattered, they’d make it illegal.” Well, this vote matters, and Obama went out of his way to have the vote. If he respects the outcome of the vote, we’ll be treated to the spectacle of libertarians and anarchists admitting they were wrong about the big, bad gummint. I’d pay the price of admission for that.
I don’t particularly want the President to “lose big”, but if he does lose this vote, and accepts that he’s lost it, there will once again be the chance for the administration to be taken seriously as a constructive force. He can say – and mean – that he did stand up for the Syrian opposition, while at the same time he will less likely be taken to task for being undemocratic or untransparent in his dealings with the American people. The next time he tells Americans he would like them to support a military operation somewhere, it will be clearer that he wants to act with them, not find a way around them. It might be worth the perception that he “lost big” to get to that.
I’m not entirely sure President Obama gets what’s at stake, however encouraging his insistence on this Congressional vote was. He is also encouraging members of Congress to “vote their conscience”, even if the majority of Americans don’t agree with them. As solid and Burkean that notion of not sacrificing one’s judgment to one’s constiuents is, anyone with any real judgment here would immediately recognise that Americans are deeply cynical right now, and are wondering whether they even _have_ a democracy. It would not be wise for Congress to do _anything_ but reflect the majority opinion right now. The entire point is for people to see, in a very public way, that it is the voters who rule. Anything short of that outcome will merely power the Greenwald anti-government propaganda machine for another year or so.
As I’ve said repeatedly, right now it’s not even about whether the intervention should occur or not. I probably even would have supported the US participating if it weren’t for the copious Obama missteps of the last few months.
But if the US does it now – after three solid months of the US government not answering simple questions and hiding even the most useless, inconsequential information from the people – all it does is allow Assad to turn things around. Assad will simply be able to recruit allies (and encourage more silence from the non-aligned nations) by turning this into a war against the “American Empire”, whitewashing the numerous and heart-rending crimes of his genocidal regime in the process.
The moral standing of the US must first be re-established before it can act with real authority. If Obama wants the world, or even other Americans, to take seriously a moral argument for taking action against the vicious behaviour of the Assad regime, he must make it clear that America is no Empire.
He had opportunities to do that earlier this year when the NSA controversy started, but, to my chagrin, he has squandered those opportunities again and again.
If Obama would like the opportunity to once more speak to the consciences of the American people, he must respect a “no” vote from Congress – however much that may sting – and then say “Okay, you’ve nixed _my_ plan…now what are _we_ going to do about Assad?”
Military intervention or no, _something_ must be done about Assad…and we are all part of a world community that needs to figure out what that is.