Obama Decision On U.S. Syria Attack Wins Applause From Skeptical Liberals

08/31/2013 06:14 pm ET
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post
Getty

WASHINGTON -- Liberals who are often critical of President Barack Obama's foreign policy are hailing his decision to seek authorization from Congress to strike Syria, even as many continue to oppose the military action itself.

It is being seen as a step back from an increasingly imperial presidency in the post 9/11 era, on issues including indefinite detention, surveillance or global drone and cruise missile strikes.

Obama's move is also considered a rare act of genuine political courage. A congressional rejection would damage him politically, but he's pursuing it regardless in pursuit of a broader principle.

"It's great news that President Obama is seeking congressional approval for military action, an important precedent for all future presidents," said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, generally a critic of the president. "After years of societal and international norms being thrown out the door -- and things like torture, violations of civil liberties, and war becoming normalized -- today's announcement is an important down payment on proper norms and regular order being restored."

Congress is granted power in the United States Constitution to declare war, but modern presidents have routinely marginalized the legislative body. Obama said during his Rose Garden address Saturday that he believed he had the authority to strike on his own, but was choosing to bring in Congress.

"While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," he said. "I'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Stephen Miles, of Win Without War, a coalition of antiwar groups, said the group is "proud to see President Obama is doing the right thing and that Congress will indeed get a vote. Now it is up to each and every American to call their member of Congress and let their voice be heard on this important issue."

But progressives were less optimistic about being able to defeat the war resolution in Congress. Howie Klein of Blue America, which had urged the president to seek out congressional authority, said that his organization would mobilize its members to pressure liberals in Congress, reminding them that every House Democratic leader approves of bombing Syria.

"It's time to change the House leadership," he said, noting that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she is not interested in becoming speaker again.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello, a senior official at the Center for American Progress, supports intervention, but said that some members of Congress might regret getting what they asked for.

"There are plenty in Congress, including some demanding more consultation, who would prefer the comfort of an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand analysis to having to take a position of whether the U.S. will take action against a regime that has slaughtered children with chemical weapons amidst an incredibly complex civil war in the Middle East," he told HuffPost. "If ever a presidential decision could be dicey and prudent at the same time, it is asking this Congress to take some ownership over this nearly impossible set of Syria options."

Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn, said members are opposed to U.S. military action in Syria, which is unlikely to end suffering there.

"President Obama was right not to use military force without congressional authorization -- but more importantly, we shouldn't be forced into a binary debate over strikes or nothing," she said. "We should continue engaging with the international community, while vigorously exploring alternatives to military action, including negotiations, diplomacy, and promotion of humanitarian aid."

But progressives who've seen their ability to rein in U.S. adventurism erode over the past decade consider congressional involvement a small victory.

"President Obama's biggest show of leadership was reaffirming his commitment to the constitution and ensuring that Congress serves as a check on executive power," said Charles Chamberlain, head of Democracy for America, the outgrowth of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid premised largely on opposition to the Iraq war. "Now, it's up to the American people to make certain that Congress hears their voice as they make this decision."

Syria War In August (Warning: Graphic Images)

YOU MAY LIKE

CONVERSATIONS