Obama Pauses; Calls for Debate in Congress

by James M. WallObama AFP Jim Watson

In a surprise move Saturday afternoon, President Barack Obama announced  he would ask for a Congressional debate before he would order any air strikes on Syria.

Speaking at a hastily-called press conference in the White House rose garden, the President said: “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

Ma’an, the Palestinian news service, notes that the decision to take the issue to Congress “represents a significant gamble for Obama”.

He “risks suffering the same fate as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who on Friday lost his own vote on authorizing military action”.

The television network, MSNBC, reported that White House officials point to Cameron’s defeat in the Parliament as one reason the President decided to delay action against Syria until Congress could return and hold its debate.

The U.S. House of Representatives confirms it will consider a measure on military action against Syria the week of Sept. 9, according to House Speaker John Boehner.

In his Friday New York Times column, “A Much Less Special Relationship”, Roger Cohen wrote:

It has been a very long time since a British prime minister lost a war-and-peace vote in Parliament, as David Cameron did on Syria in a stinging personal defeat. He paid the price for the “dodgy dossier,” “Bush’s poodle” and all the other damning epithets that came to accompany Tony Blair’s support a decade ago of the war America fought in Iraq on false pretenses.

In addition to David Cameron’s defeat in Parliament, President Obama could not avoid the fact that he was already on record regarding a president’s need to obtain congressional approval for an attack on another nation.

Speaking in a Q and A session with the Boston Globe on December 20, 2007, then presidential candidate Obama was asked about talk of potential strikes against Iran:

In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?”

Candidate Obama responded:

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

When President George W. Bush built his “coalition of the willing” nations before his 2003 attack on Iraq, he secured the backing of the Arab League, a support that President Obama failed to gain in recent months.

Juan Cole writes that it is most likely the new military government of Egypt that cost Obama the support of the Arab League this time around.  Egypt, according to Cole, has also refused to support an American assault on Syria. Cole writes:

The newly assertive Egyptian military and the civilian transitional government in Egypt are helping make President Obama’s life difficult. Likely it was Egypt that blocked the Arab League from calling for intervention against the Syrian regime despite its condemnation of Damascus for using chemical weapons.

Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy rejected a Western strike on Syria. He said that no country could attack another save in self-defense or in the case of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force.

Members of Congress in search for more lucid arguments to take to the House and Senate, would do well to pay attention to the bill of particulars that Richard Falk has drawn up to remind us that the U.S. does not enter this discussion with clean hands.

The U.S. Government rains drone missiles on civilian human targets anywhere in the world, continues to operate Guantanamo in the face of universal condemnation, whitewashed Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and the torture memos, committed aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan, and invests billions to sustain its unlawful global surveillance capabilities.

Still, it has the audacity to lecture the world about ‘norm enforcement’ in the wake of the chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Someone should remind President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that credibility with respect to international law begins at home and ends at the United Nations.

For eloquence and passion in delivery, opponents of an attack against Syria  will find an experienced model in the presentation below by British parliamentarian George Galloway made against David Cameron’s request for support for a U.S.-British attack on Syria. 


Meanwhile, for the next ten days, the world, along with President Obama, must wait for a congressional decision on what the President is certain was a Syrian chemical weapon attack.

The picture above, of President Obama, was taken during his Saturday press event. It is by Jim Watson for AFP.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Middle East Politics, Obama, United Nations, US govermemt, USA, War. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Obama Pauses; Calls for Debate in Congress

  1. Jack Graham says:

    Much as he tried to ignore the exclusive constitutional ower of Congress to authorize war in the absence of an sudden attack on American citizens, territory, commerce, or armed forces, Obama has been forced to abide by the United States Constitution, the War Powers Act, and the United Nations Charter. He painted himself in a corner, because he has been taking orders from Bibi Netanyahu who has power to bring him down, so vulnerable is he on account of his fake birth certificate, Benghazi, fast and furious, and other such problems almost too numerous to itemize. .

    If he attacks Syria without a resolution of Congress, he will lose his base, and he will fall.

    If he does not attack Syria, he will lose the protection he enjoys from the establishment press as a favor to the Israel Lobby, and he will fall.

    So he is now asking Congress for a war powers resolution. Congress will deny him that, because the American people, like the British people, have had enough, and senators and representatives are at present more frightened by the American people than the Israel Lobby. When Congress denies a resolution, Obama will be off the hook, — but only for the time being. In the end, I predict, he will not recover. He was elected on the claim that the invasion of Iraq should not have been authorized, on which point he was right, becasue, after all, Hans Blix was right. But then Obama showed his true colors,, — his belief that Libya did not have to be authorized, and he is still claiminng Syria does not have to be authorized. Many thought Bush was bad, and he certainly was not good. But despite the high hopes of his supporters that he would be better, Obama is only a wolf in sheep’S clothing, another patsy for Israel.

    Times, they are a changin’, at least I hope so. — John Remington Graham of the Minnesota Bar (#3664X)

  2. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Keeping our eyes on the ball, the entire scenario we are witnessing is to achieve the ultimate Israeli-inspired US goal of regime change in Iran.

    If Iran becomes friendly towards Israel, it can have its “nuclear caviar” and eat it, too.

    Meantime, over 100,000 Syrians have been tragically killed in this wickedly manipulated and pre-planned civil war. No serious peace efforts were applied because the Israel-inspired goal is bleeding Syria to death, as in the case of Iraq. (Is Egypt next?)

    The criminal “chemical use” issue did not arise because of the horrible death of an additional most precious 1,450 Syrian men, women, and children. It only flared up because AIPAC wanted to ensure that Syria would never be able to use such weapons in any potential confrontation with “nuclear” Israel (that also has chemical and biological weapons). This is in spite of 40 years of extraordinarily quiet borders between the two sides.

    My take is that the US will now use its Cruise Missiles in order to sever Iran’s right-arm ally and to devastate the Syrian military capabilities for the next 20 years. It is also to deliberately distract the Syrians, while special forces attempt to identify and “snatch” the chemical weapons, and to help the Opposition – effectively Qaida affiliates- advance sufficiently to take over Damascus.

    My hunch is also that President Obama has primarily sought Congressional Approval, in order to buy time for David Cameron, in order for the latter to try again for another vote, after the UN inspectors present their findings.

    I hope and pray that the so-called “limited” US strike is aborted entirely and replaced by bringing the two Syrian parties and involved foreign parties together to arrive at a peace plan.

  3. Peace for all. says:

    Another hoax of Weapons of Mass Destruction ((WMD).
    President Obama has been inconsistent in his decisions on most of the major issues of the world. He has one foot in the sand and the other in
    Israel. One hopes the US Congress (voted by the people), will not give
    authorization to him to strike on Syria. The war on Syria, will not solve the
    issue of WMD, but annihilate a great number of human beings, who already
    have been living in misery and in a war zone caused by the inability of the US to make up its mind from the very outset. Nothing has been successful in the jig saw puzzle the President and his advisers played.

    The dictates made by the Bibi Nat to the worlds greatest nation, aught to be
    stopped by the people of this great nation. The Americans are not a nation of
    sheep, but a nation built on sold grounds of courage, justice, and a great
    A reminder to President Obama and his Secretary of State, of the former
    Secretary of State speech at the UN confirming the presence of WPM in
    Iraq, when in fact they knew there was none, but played that game in order
    to destruct Iraq. That only served the ambitions of Israel to destroy Arab
    countries one by one by various scenarios.
    What in fact, the chemical wars are camouflaged by Israeli agents, as news
    are leaking out to that effect?.

    President Obama, a Noble Peace Prize winner , should not wage wars
    against the innocent people of Syria, or any other nations.
    That will not make a democracy in Syria, as it didn’t make one in Iraq,

  4. Beth Daoud says:

    Not sure the US was ever built on courage, justice, and great constitution. It was built on greed, slavery, and justice for only those with the right skin color. Not much has changed.

    Most of America is indeed a nation of sheep. We get our daily dumb-us-down medicine from TV, which tells us how to think, believe, and who we should view as terrorists and non-terrorists. Maybe it is time to throw away our TV’s (I did) and start thinking for ourselves, stop allowing ourselves to be brainwashed into being massive consumers, and free up some time to actually start fighting for what is right, instead of being too busy working to accumulate more stuff.

  5. Anis Salib says:

    Anis Salib on September 1, 2013

    Since Israel wants this war in preparation for another against Iran, how can we expect Congress not to obey? Perhaps one purpose of President Obama’s decision to get Congress approval is simply to gain time to avoid the possibility that the UN inspectors would deny Assad’s involvement in the chemical attack. It would be a very world wide embarrassing incident if this were the case.

  6. Bob Norberg says:

    Oh, for just one George Galloway in the U.S. Congress!

  7. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    As a follow up to my earlier comment…………

    One thing I cannot understand.

    Why should President Obama have to listen to barks of the Zionist media, Israeli harnessed Congress, AIPAC, Israel, or whatever psychological game is being forced upon him?

    President Obama can start a new dynamic peaceful approach, by demonstrating a new American Leadership style. He can demand that the two opposing Syrian parties immediately enter into peace negotiations, and not to be allowed to exit the room before they reach a peaceful solution, to be guaranteed by the UN Security Council? The agreement should also include renunciation of violence, chemical weapons, and any acts of vengeance.

    The Arab League did that to stop the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, and it can be used as a precedent.

    The US will regain its credibility in the entire world by taking the path of true leadership by upholding peaceful means for resolving problems.

    Is this a dreamer’s wish? Or can President Obama start another genuine “American dream” that brings back true American leadership?

  8. Fr. Robert says:

    Awad, I pray that Obama takes his own path as you suggest.

    I believe that he can, however, easily put Syria and the region at further risk because there is no accountability pushed by the public, except for relatively minor political consequences. Bush was rewarded for his subterfuge on Iraq with a second term from which he peacefully retired as did his nutty henchmen, Blair was made official Mideast peace negotiator for his!

    Where are the calls for war crimes trials, that might have the Obamas think twice?

  9. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Fr. Robert, Thank you for the excellent question you bring forth.
    It seems, there is no accountability for Bush’s committing such horrendous crimes.
    Likewise, there are reports that Israel has been using phosphorous bombs, cluster bombs, and cancerous uranium infused bombs in Palestine and Lebanon.
    Where is accountability?

  10. roberthstiver says:

    Mr. Sifri, your initial posting above is a geopolitical masterpiece of analysis. Note that the dastardly US, via Chuck Hagel — intimidated and beaten by the zioneocons during confirmation hearings — yesterday added to the frenzy-to-make-Congress-complicit by specifically adding HEZBOLLAH into the mix. Can one imagine the AIPAC crowd, working the margins and cleverly maneuvering its 95 percent lock on Congress into the position of “Well! Taking out Syria (in a limited, humane fashion) for no more than 60 days, extendable to 90), then Hezbollah, then the big prize Iran: that’s a scenario I can vote for, because it’s all in Israel’s security interests.”

  11. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Mr. Stiver, thank you for your kind comment. I agree with your remarks about the AIPAC crowd advancing its plan to have Syria and Hezbollah subdued, in order to get to Iran, their real goal.
    Back in the days of Nixon-Kissinger, AIPAC’s strategy was to have the US set up the Shah’s Iran and military-ruled Turkey, along with Israel, as the “Triangle of Strangulation” that squeezes any independent movement in the Arab Middle East. The goal was to prevent any resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestine and any Arab resistance movement from developing.
    The Mullahs’ Revolution took care of that in 1979. And Turkey’s Erdogan set Turkey on a path of independence that was not ultra friendly towards Israel.
    I believe that, today, Israel is still attempting to regain the other two sides of the “Triangle”, while facilitating the process of bleeding Syria and Iraq to death, in order to maintain its heinous occupation of Palestine.

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