One of the most on-record and viscerally anti-war presidents in US history told
the world on Saturday night that he would be leading his nation into major
military action for the third time in his presidency – though he will wait for
President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on
several issues – a huge one was his commitment to end the US war in
He was the anti-war candidate, even more than Democrat Hillary
Clinton, and throughout his presidency has strongly avoided discussing and using
the phrase “war on terror,” preferring covert drone killings of terrorists out
of the headlines.
Until he became president.
predecessor George W. Bush ran the US war in Afghanistan for most of his
presidency, Obama approved a major surge of tens of thousands of troops that
many say constituted a new stage in the conflict and gave him at least joint
ownership of the outcome.
Next, Obama took military action in Libya,
turning the tide against then-dictator Muammar Gaddafi and eventually paving the
way for a victory by the Libyan rebels.
Now he will intervene in Syria,
however limited or targeted that intervention may be.
certainly be a delay. Congress is not even in session to debate the issue for
another week and a half, and the debate itself could delay an attack for days or
Probably a month from now was Obama’s implied real deadline date
for Congress, Syria and the world community.
But Congress does not like
to turn presidents down when they ask to go to war.
There will likely be
a certain amount of bipartisan opposition, but there will also be bipartisan
Many Democrats will end up voting for an attack, despite their
stronger anti-war stances, since Obama is their party’s leader. Many Republicans
will end up voting for an attack on principle, or out of fear that the
president’s invocation of danger from Iran or North Korea will make “no” voters
look weak on national security.
Certainly, legally, Obama could have gone
forward without a congressional vote and there is ample precedent for presidents
going it alone, especially on limited attacks.
In that sense, the main
reason for not doing so probably relates to the lousy US poll numbers for war,
boosting public opinion on the issue and his own discomfort with going to
But the main message to come through his speech is that this
anti-war president has now committed the US to acting militarily in Syria.
Everything else is commentary.