For the first time in a long time, the President will consult Congress instead of unilaterally ordering an attack against Syria. This is a big deal, and the President only made the big decision last night against the better judgement of his entire senior staff.
It seemed like a sure bet that the U.S. would launch a "limited" strike against Syria at some point this weekend. The U.N. pulled their team of inspectors out early, a surprising and unprecedented move seen as a clue that an American attack was incoming. But there won't be any U.S. missiles in Damascus this weekend, because Saturday afternoon the President announced he will seek Congressional approval before hitting the big red button.
So how close was the U.S. to launching an attack? Real close. The President was set on striking this weekend until Friday night, according to the Associated Press, when things suddenly swung completely in the other direction:
The administration officials described a president overriding all his top national security advisers, who believed Obama had the authority to act on his own.
But these officials say the president spent much of the week wrestling with Congress' role in authorizing force and made the decision Friday night after a lengthy discussion with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough.
The above picture was released by the White House shortly after the President made the announcement to the public, showing the meeting with his team of advisers Friday night where he allegedly overruled their judgement. The one below shows Obama meeting with his executive team in the Situation Room Saturday morning, presumably telling everyone his new plan:
(Love the pink, Mr. Hagel.)
As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith and Evan McMorris-Santoro explain, Obama's decision should not come as a surprise: restoring Congress' role in decisions of war was something Obama campaigned on before he was elected in 2008. "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," Senator Obama told the Boston Globe prior to being elected. What Obama has done is move the country further towards the checks and balances outlined by the Constitutions that so many past Presidents (and Obama) have previously chosen to ignore.
Smith and McMorris-Santoro expected the President's decision to divide the Republican party in two -- old defense hawks like Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham on one side, and young libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz on the other. Except Graham and McCain released a joint statement praising the President's conclusion that the chemical weapons attacks required a response, while saying they won't support attacks if they're not part of a broad strategy:
“However, we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests. Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing. And it would send the wrong signal to America's friends and allies, the Syrian opposition, the Assad regime, Iran, and the world – all of whom are watching closely what actions America will take.”
So this should be fun. Reactions throughout the political world have been wildly different, with many members of Congress urging leadership to resume House activities before September 9. That's when the House is currently scheduled to resume, and a Syria vote has been penciled into the schedule. The Syrian rebels are not pleased, though. They feel like they've had the "carpet pulled out from their feet," according to NBC's Richard Engel. Help will (maybe) come soon.