09/10/2013 11:19 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Best for Obama: Lose Syria Vote

On the merits, Barack Obama has already lost the Congress on his proposal to intervene in the Syrian Civil War. What's left is an argument on the politics. The White House's message to Democrats is that rejection will doom the rest of the Obama presidency and make defeat for the party all but certain next November.

On the contrary, losing this vote would allow the president to escape the political corner into which he has painted himself. He can then move onto the issues that are much more important to the American people and to his own legacy -- jobs, the budget, the threatened debt default, immigration. Indeed, Congressional Democrats who vote against him on Syria may well feel compelled to be more supportive on those issues

If he wins the vote, however, he will then be drawn into a quagmire. He has promised to bring Assad to heel with an effort that Secretary of State John Kerry described as "unbelievably small -- limited air strikes for a limited time. This is an unbelievably difficult task. Even assuming the president can pull it off, it will absorb his time and drain his political capital. There will be little of either left for the daunting task of negotiating with a GOP laced with Obama-haters in order to avoid either a major financial crisis or giving into their reactionary demands. Those Republicans who vote for him on Syria will be even less likely to cut him slack on the critical domestic issues.

There is no disgrace is losing a vote on principle. "I am not a king," the president can say. "I am president of a democracy. While I disagree, I must concede to the will of the people."

The White House is obsessed with Obama's credibility as a strong leader. But the people are clearly upset with a government that seems too strong -- it spies on its people, favors the top one percent, and spends too much time acting as the world's policeman. A message from the president that he understands the limits of his power could get him both off the Syrian hook and a bump in the American polls.