Syrian President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons on his citizens on Aug. 21 (for the 14th time since U.S. President Barack Obama's "red line" speech), left Washington no choice. It reminded Obama, or so we thought, that he inherited not only the presidency but also an American legacy -- a legacy that obligates him to take action against despots who use weapons forbidden by international conventions.
Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, realized -- so we naively believed -- the truth in the expression, "If you want peace, prepare for war." But for Obama, everything is backwards: If you want war, prepare for peace.
According to a recent U.S. poll, 80 percent of the American public wants Obama to receive authorization from Congress before striking in Syria. And what if Congress behaves like the British parliament? Or is that precisely what Obama wants? Another poll concluded that 60% of Americans support a military strike, if Congress approves it. So maybe there will be an assault.
How did things get this bad? The U.S. Constitution puts the power to declare war in the hands of Congress, but ever since World War II, in America, the world's policeman, it has been the president who usurped the power to declare military action. But not Obama. It looks as though ultimately he did not come along to change the world, but rather is a product of a changing world.
In a few days Obama will head to Saint Petersburg for the G-20 summit. He could have brought a wonderful gift from Congress to Russian President Vladimir Putin: a "no" to an attack on Syria, just as Moscow wanted. But Obama is in no rush. There is no need to convene an emergency session of Congress. It can wait until Sept. 9. Until further notice, Putin is the big winner in this whole affair. Congressman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) hinted Saturday that America may follow Britain's lead when it comes to the vote.
It is not only the citizens of Syria who should be worried by Obama's speech. John Kerry should also be concerned. What if after all the big talk, and the declarations of commitment, Congress says no? What will Kerry do? Quit? It's a good thing that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are underway, requiring him to stay in office. Kerry, so we thought, had painted Obama into a corner. That's all right -- Congress can take him out of the corner. There is a lot of room in the American Congress for people who take public opinion into consideration above all else. The Iraq trauma is still more powerful in America than the trauma of chemical weapons.
France, which supports a strike on Syria (unlike a decade ago with Iraq) will also go to a vote at this rate. Polls are being issued there too. Of the French public, 64% oppose the attack. President Francois Hollande is in favor. The French parliament will likely give him a red light.
This is such a tragic story. Keep in mind that the battle against Assad is also a battle against the use of prohibited weapons. In this ever-changing world, the right, or shall I say the duty, of an enlightened world to intervene when a country commits crimes against humanity is going out of style. What a lesson in credibility, ethics and morals.
The British parliament also disgraced itself. That is precisely the tragedy of this world. The British decision, alongside the U.N.'s impotence, remind us all of what kind of world we live in. One that voices shock and dismay at the sight of murdered children, but heaven forbid that this should interfere with our beer or our croissants. It is important to keep in mind that an assault on Syria would also be directed at Tehran and Pyongyang. It is safe to assume that in both capitals officials are closely following the vote in Congress. At this rate, they will be forced to send hundreds of flower bouquets to the members of Congress.
Even Canada, which always supported the U.S. in every entanglement (the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, Afghanistan and Iraq) is now shying away from battle. The world has changed, and wars are no longer in fashion. The world is no longer willing to accept casualties, even if they are among soldiers.
Obama, too, understands the changing world. There is already an American precedent -- when President Lyndon Johnson misled Congress in 1964 to get carte blanche for action in Vietnam -- but for Obama, things are very different. He seeks a very limited military operation, and only after a congressional vote that could easily go either way.
For now, Assad can emerge from his bunker. The citizens of Syria are the ones who should be holing up in bomb shelters, until further notice.