Last time this happened with Libya, President Obama claimed he didn’t have time to meet with members of Congress to seek approval before taking military action. Now the Obama administration says it would need to seek UN or NATO approval before intervening in Syria, but not the consent of Congress.
Sen. Jeff Sessions pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the issue during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today:
SESSIONS: “Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?”
PANETTA: “Our goal would be to seek international permission… Whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress—I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.”
SESSIONS: “Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, ‘we’re going to seek international approval and we’ll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval’… Wouldn’t you agree that would be pretty breathtaking to the average American?”
This isn’t to say there aren’t extenuating circumstances when a president might have to order military action before getting congressional approval, i.e. an imminent national security threat. But if President Bush managed to get congressional approval for Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama should certainly have the time to get it for Syria.
His reluctance to do so seems purely political: If the administration decides to intervene in Syria, Obama doesn’t want to have to make the case to Congress, and he doesn’t want an official declaration.
But what’s most offensive is that Obama sees the approval of an international body as more important than the approval of the elected representatives of the American people. It’s yet another example of his leading-from-behind policy. The situation in Syria is getting more alarming by the day, and yet Obama won’t dare take action unless an international coalition is there to take the first step with him – and, assumedly, also take the political blame from the White House if things go wrong.
UPDATE: Video of the exchange between Panetta and Sessions added below.