Last resort: When all else failed, Obama went to Congress


One factor that could complicate President Obama’s effort to win congressional authorization for his plan to attack the Syrian regime is that, despite the constitutional requirement to seek Congress’ permission before an act of war, doing so was apparently never the president’s first choice. In fact, it appears it was his last resort.

White House spinners have spent the last couple of days telling the press that Obama surprised even his most senior staff Friday night by deciding to seek congressional authorization. Before that, it is said, asking Congress’s approval was not even among the options being considered in the Syrian crisis.

It was only after it became clear to Obama that he could not win acceptance in other, preferred, circles that he chose to go to Congress. Would he have sought congressional authorization if he had won United Nations approval for a Syrian attack? Highly unlikely. Would he have sought congressional authorization if the British Parliament had voted to join Obama’s action? Also unlikely. Even approval from the Arab League might have been enough for Obama to act.

As it turned out, Obama achieved none of those goals and decided to seek congressional approval only after failing to win the international acceptance that apparently ranked higher on his list. “Mr. Obama made no secret to aides he felt uncomfortable acting without UN Security Council backing,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Current and former officials said his decision reflected his concerns about being seen as acting unilaterally — without political cover from Congress and without the UK at his side. Arab states, for their part, have offered little public support despite their private encouragement.”

Facing that situation, Obama abruptly changed course. He would ask Congress for authorization. “The change in Mr. Obama’s thinking confounded White House insiders,” the Journal reported.

So when all else failed, Obama went to Congress. And now lawmakers will likely be a skeptical audience, perhaps in part because they know Obama never intended to seek their authorization until circumstances forced him to.