US – The Proposed Congressional Vote Is The Best Decision Obama Has Made In Months – 31 August 2013

I’d like to think Obama is bringing this to Congress because he thinks Congress will vote it down. After all, that just happened to David Cameron in the UK’s Parliament, so it’s kind of plausible that it could also happen in Congress.

It would be politically brilliant, if that’s what he’s doing – it allows him to role-play the hawk for right-wingers who continually blast him for being soft, it drops the final responsibility for a decision in the laps of members of Congress, and if Congress does vote against, he can also say “I didn’t have to even _let_ you vote on this – I could have just ordered the strikes…but I wanted this decision made democratically, and now that _you_ have spoken, there will be no strikes.” That would end the hostility to him from the left while ceding no ground to the right and placing him firmly in the practical tradition of the centre. Win-win-win.

The only question is, can I reasonably assume that’s really what Obama’s up to? One thing I have always conceded he does extremely well…at least up until this recent nonsense with the NSA and the Bradley Manning verdict…is play the public opinion game. Unfortunately, the NSA and Manning stuff have been so toxic that it’s hard to see any of that as some variant of fifteenth-dimensional chess. If Obama’s role-playing someone who is clueless about the threat to him from the libertarian Right and the firebag Left, I’m hard pressed to see why. More likely this is a welcome smart initiative to save him from the several unwelcome and dumb mistakes he has made.

The only way to know for sure if this is a manifestation of the kind of deftness at navigating through political obstacles that Obama has wowed me with in the past is for Obama to place the decision before Congress, watch as Congress votes to deny the authorisation to go to war, and then fully _accept_ that decision instead of trying to end run around it after the fact.

It could be Obama has every intention of doing that – or it could be that his revulsion at Syrian behaviour is also genuine, but he also has genuinely learned some lessons in the past couple months about the importance of transparency, and knows there’s no way anyone is going to do jack about Assad if he tells them to instead of asking. The shortest route to becoming LBJ reincarnated lies in that direction – thus the importance of this not being a Gulf of Tonkin rubber stamp, but a genuine debate about the direction American foreign policy is taking.

But it would be momentous if Congress could actually vote his initiative down if it is not convinced the executive branch is going in the right direction. If Congress really did vote it down, that would put to rest for a good long time the firebag notions that Congress is in the hip pockets of plutocratic military-industrialist evildoers. Maybe, for the first time, people might have to admit that America is a democracy and not an Empire. That admission would be priceless to hear.

Indeed, if Americans are to be part of any solutions where Syria is concerned, the _first_ order of business is restoring confidence in America as a democracy rather than an Empire.

So, I’ll be watching closely to see where this leads – hopefully someplace worth going. It would be nice to see the return of fifteenth-dimension chess after a couple of months of inept tiddly winks.

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