Analysis: The anti-war president is leading the US to war for a third time

Going to Congress likely delays action, but attack is on the horizon.

Obama makes remarks on Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Theiler)
Obama makes remarks on Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Theiler)
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 congressional approval.
President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on several issues – a huge one was his commitment to end the US war in Iraq.
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.
Although his 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.
There will 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 weeks.
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 support.
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 war.
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.