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La Nacion, Costa Rica

Obama’s Ambiguity


By Editorial

If Congress refuses to support him, much of the responsibility for future violations of international law and humanitarian principles on the part of Assad’s regime will fall on the shoulders of the legislators.

Translated By Chris Randall

8 September 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager


Costa Rica - La Nacion - Original Article (Spanish)

If Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls, American interests in the region could be threatened even further. Obama does not feel obliged to ask Congress for permission to act. He recognizes that he is able to make a decision either to obtain its support — not its authorization — or act alone.

President Barack Obama submitted his controversial plans to Congress to carry out a limited military intervention in Syria. The decision was surprising. The president and his predecessors have over-ruled legislative power in many similar situations. Throughout history, the tendency to expand American presidential powers in matters of war has been a constant.

Because of this, in itself the decision to seek the approval of the representatives and senators for the attack on Assad’s regime has sparked controversy. The president’s critics, especially those in favor of a strong president able to act instantaneously, accused him of having walled himself in and compromising the power of the presidency in facing future threats.

Senator and former Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, fears that the United States will present an image of weakness to the world if Congress refuses to approve the president’s plans.

Those in favor of the attack — many of them sincerely motivated by rejecting the inhumane use of chemical weapons — have also shown themselves to be unsatisfied by the consultation. They demand immediate action to punish the Syrian regime and make clear American wishes not to allow the violation of international treaties— borne out of the horrors of World War I — on the use of chemical weapons.

Others argue on the basis of national security, as well as humanitarian grounds. Turning a blind eye to the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons compromises the safety of American troops in the future, encourages a build-up of chemical weapons that could fall into the hands of terrorist groups, and poses a real danger to Washington’s allies in areas where their enemies have managed to store horrendous weapons of mass destruction.

On the other side of the fence, among pacifists and those suspicious of such formidable powers in the hands of the president, there are many who understand — somewhat naively — that resorting to Congress strengthens the role of the legislature on this issue and expands checks and balances on the executive branch.

Others would do well to pay attention to the words of the president, who was a teacher of Constitutional law, not long before occupying the Oval Office. A while after announcing a consultation with Congress, Obama stated that in his functions as commander-in-chief, he retains “the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America’s national security.” Secretary of State John Kerry has said the president has the power to launch an attack “no matter what Congress does.”

Obama does not feel obliged to ask for permission. On the contrary, he recognizes that he is able to make a decision either to obtain the support of the legislators — not their authorization — or act alone instead. His ardent defense of an attack deployed by his administration leaves no room for doubt that he wishes to carry out military action. What he does not want is to assume sole responsibility.

Obama’s consultation with Congress is not thanks to a new perception of presidential powers, but rather clear political motivations. If he obtains the support of Congress — and he probably would not have asked for it if he did not think it was likely — he would be able to share the responsibility in the event that the operation was not as fruitful as expected. If Congress refuses to support him, much of the responsibility for future violations of international law and humanitarian principles on the part of Assad’s regime will fall on the shoulders of the legislators.

The maneuver is a result of the inherent uncertainties of a volatile situation, where it is difficult to determine the probability of success of any action the United States undertakes.

The objectives of the mission proposed by Obama reflect this uncertainty. He is seeking to punish Assad for his use of chemical weapons and make an example of him for other potential violators of international law and humanitarian principles but not overthrow the regime. This ambiguity is easy to explain when we take into account the composition of the forces opposed to the Syrian president — Hezbollah, al-Qaida, and other factions affiliated with the Iranian theocracy are active among their ranks. If Assad’s regime falls, American interests in the region could be threatened even further.



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