Obama surprised top aides with last minute change of heart on Syria

US president does not rule out ordering strike, even if Congress says no, and believes he has the legal authority to do so.

September 1, 2013 06:41
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama in Newtown, CT.

US President Barack Obama, pensive at CT vigil 390. (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

US President Barack Obama reportedly surprised his closest advisers with a last minute change of heart when he decided to turn to Congress to authorize a strike on Syria, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

On Saturday, Obama addressed the nation, saying he has decided to go ahead with plans of a "limited and tailored" strike on Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, as punishment for their use of chemical weapons which resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people. Before doing so, however, the president will seek the approval of Congress for such a move.

“I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” he said, speaking from the White House, adding a second decision: “I will seek authorization for the use of force from American representatives in Congress.

“Some things are more important than partisan differences,” Obama said. “Now is the time to show the world that America keeps its commitments.”

Under the War Powers Act, American presidents can and have used military force without congressional approval. Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all ordered military operations without an authorization of the use of force from Congress. But Obama told reporters in the Rose Garden on Saturday that his decision to seek approval was a demonstration of democracy to the rest of the world.

The decision to seek authorization from Congress was Obama's alone. The four congressional leaders did not ask him to do so, nor did any of his national security advisers recommend it, Bloomberg cited two administration officials as saying.

The shift in the US president's position was influenced by US Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey's assessment that a strike was not time-sensitive, and by British Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to bring the decision on Britain's involvement to a vote in parliament, which he lost.

According to the administration sources, the president saw several benefits in the move: bolstering the credibility of any US action, giving the American citizens more information, making Congress more accountable, insulating him from political criticism and furthering his goal of moving the United States away from a permanent state of war, Bloomberg reported.

The president does not rule out ordering a strike on his own, even if Congress votes against it, according to Bloomberg. Obama is not ceding executive power, and believes he has the legal authority to order a strike.

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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