Tuesday, September 3, 2013

No Time For Childish Ways

While there may have been more napping by our staff members over the Labor Day weekend than most adults normally do, we certainly were awake on Saturday afternoon. That's when President Obama, in what may be a precedent-setting action, announced he was passing the decision to Congress on whether the U.S. should take military action in Syria.

That Congress didn't immediately rush back to Washington to debate the issue, didn't surprise us at all - especially given that President Obama stated any punitive action against Syria's current government wasn't time sensitive.

Still, Senate committees will already be meeting this week on the issue, some possibly as early as today, while the Republican-led House won't begin debating any potential military action until next Monday at the earliest. That Speaker Boehner can't even face the difficult decision to act like an adult and bring the House back into session early doesn't bode well for any of the difficult decisions facing Congress this month.

That President Obama did act as the Constitution declares Presidents should - and exactly in line with his past actions and statements, including his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech - didn't entirely surprise most of our staff.

It did surprise many, as Wonkblog's Neil Irwin pointed out over the weekend.

President Obama has never favored going to war as a first option. As we noted as recently as last Thursday and as far back as two-and-a-half years ago, President Obama has a long track record of trying to pull America back from its role as supercop to the world. It's clear that not all of his advisors feel the same as he does.

As MSNBC's Chuck Todd confirmed Sunday, the President had been lobbied heavily by his National Security advisors last week that he should forgo getting Congressional approval on a military strike in Syria. At the last moment, however, Obama ignored his National Security advisors and appeared to take his own council, based in part on the the lively rejection vote in the British House of Commons last week, and also on the will of the American people.

Our primary advice to anyone trying to read the tea leaves on this is simple: Don't think Congress will break down along traditional partisan lines on the decision to use force in Syria.

As Ed O'Keefe laid out in the Washington Post on Sunday, there are at least five groups of opinions right now across both houses of Congress, and across party lines. The left is mostly split between those wanting to help the Syrian people and those wanting to avoid war, as Alex Seitz-Walz outlines at Greg Sargent's Plum Line blog. Some, like Rep. Pelosi are also somewhat bound by their positions to advocate in certain ways.

On the right, the divisions are not so easy to see. The neocon chickenhawks in Congress are furious that President Obama is making them take a stand on the record about their perpetual warmongering. The libertarians find themselves siding with the anti-war left. Potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders are worried in both directions, not wanting to seem weak on defense, but also not wanting to seem like another round of George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, as Rick Ungar of Forbes points out, certain corporate media interests are also spitting mad at President Obama for styming their plans to cash in on the latest made for TV war.

Simply put, no matter what Congress decides, the decision that President Obama has tasked them with isn't going to be easy.

Then again, we didn't send those men and women in Congress to Washington just to play footsie with the lobbyists in the kiddie pool.