While most in Congress are applauding the President's decision to seek their authorization prior to launching military strikes against Syria, there are always a few Republicans determined to criticize the President on whatever he does. Today that tendency manifests itself in the personage of Peter King R-NY:
President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria. If [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the President is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date. The President doesn’t need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redlineAs Max Fisher of the Post notes, it's difficult to comprehend what King is saying here. On the one hand he appears to be advocating for the President's inherent power as Commander-in-Chief to permit the President the right to launch a military strike against Syria immediately and without consulting Congress. This would appear to contradict other members of the House Republican caucus who have insisted it is their solemn duty to assist the rest of us with their expertise in judging whether we ought or ought not go to war. On the other hand, King appears to acknowledge the option of consulting Congress and yet berates the President for not calling an immediate "special session" to do so.
In other words, King is talking out of both sides of his mouth. Why is that?
The Post suggests why:
It’s difficult to escape the sense that King, and perhaps other members of Congress who have demurred from calling for Obama to seek their approval, just might not want to have make this call.* * *
There’s not much of a voter constituency for marginally improving a far-away civil war. And anyone who plays some role in U.S. policy toward Syria can look forward to being blamed by some future opponent for failing to solve it.While Congress is brimming with praise for the decision to seek its counsel, ultimately the position of most individual members is likely to be a political one, having more to do with saving one's skin from a primary challenge if the position happens to be wrong than any real concern for the fate of the Syrian people. That is a tricky decision, fraught with hazard, and depending on the persuasive tactics of the Administration it may be even trickier.
An elected official might reasonably conclude that he or she has very little or nothing to gain by taking even a small amount of ownership over U.S. policy toward Syria, but has a lot to lose. Of course, a number of them surely care about it as human beings, and some are probably eager to engage with the issues regarding separation of powers. But members of Congress are also political animals, and Syria is, for them, a giant bear trap.
As Time's Alex Altman put it before the President's surprise announcement, members of Congress were quite assertive about their Constitutional role in the march to war, but "--in many cases--quite eager to abdicate it."
The President has, as the New York Times headlines it this morning, "Pulle[d] lawmakers into the box he made." Those in Congress calling for strikes will now own the consequences of military involvement, and those urging restraint will own the consequences of that. It's understandable that some lawmakers would balk at being placed in an unfamiliar role of...responsibility.