Yes, he’s the commander in chief. And yes, the buck stops on his desk.
But President Obama did the prudent thing last week by putting the brakes on what appeared to be a headlong rush into military intervention in Syria, deciding instead to talk to Congress and solicit their advice, if not their consent.
This Congress isn’t particularly known for its sage advice or its ability — or willingness — to consent to anything except more partisan rancor. But by slowing any decision to essentially go to war with Syria and trying to get other national leaders on the record regarding any war decision, Obama has wisely decided that prudence is a good thing.
That decision was rewarded Tuesday when Speaker of the House John Boehner, after a White House meeting, threw his support behind Obama. The United States has “enemies around the world that need to understand that we’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior,” he said. “We also have allies ... who also need to know that America will be there and stand up when it’s necessary.”
Perhaps the memory of the run up to the Iraq War, which began just over 10 years ago, played a part. At the time, the administration of President George W. Bush was pushing hard to convince Congress and the public that it had proof positive that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, on the Sunday talk show circuit, talked about mushroom clouds and the suggestion was clear — that crazy Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and was ready to use them on us. It was, of course, a phony claim, but by the time we withdrew nearly 4,500 Americans had died and more than 32,000 were wounded and the war cost us billions — none of which was included in any budget anywhere.
The Obama administration is claiming it has proof positive that Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. The Pentagon has said a chemical attack was carried out by Assad’s military near Damascus last month and more than 1,400 people were killed, including more than 400 children.
But even some of Obama’s fellow Democrats have openly challenged the claims, as they should. We were given lots of assurances, but essentially no proof, of WMD before the Iraq war, pretty much the same situation we find ourselves in now.
And unlike the Iraq invasion, we are acting essentially alone, a coalition of one.
If more conclusive proof is developed that the Syrian military was behind the Damascus attack or if there are more such assaults, that’s a different conversation.
But we still must ask if we want — or can afford, morally and financially — to be a policeman to the world.