Certainly uncertainty is now the new watchword at a White House known to be decisive only on matters impacting the president’s re-election. With that behind him, the next 39 months may be one long slow turn into a circle of blame and shame.
Jonathan Stevenson makes the case for staying on the course the president laid down when he announced his red line. The president can consult with Congress but he can’t ask for an authorization he almost certainly won’t get because of the coalition of left and right against intervention. But Speaker Boehner’s letter to the president Wednesday may have actually opened the door to the president’s reliance on 2001’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force by linking the potential action against Assad to the prospect of WMD falling into the hands of al Qaeda affiliates:
Even as the United States grapples with the alarming scale of the human suffering, we are immediately confronted with contemplating the potential scenarios our response might trigger or accelerate. These considerations include the Assad regime potentially losing command and control of its stock of chemical weapons or terrorist organizations – especially those tied to al Qaeda – gaining greater control of and maintaining territory.
The AUMF provided in part:
Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Relying on this provision isn’t a comfortable fit, and as Professor Jack Goldsmith noted today, “a Syria strike would push the legal envelope further even than Kosovo, the outer bound to date of presidential unilateralism.”
But as both Erwin Chemerinsky and John Eastman noted on my program today, there is no remedy save impeachment available to any party if the president pushes that legal envelope. None. And impeachment isn’t going to happen over action against a butcher using WMD.
The president has been “leading from behind” for more than two years on Syria, just as he has in Egypt, Libya and everywhere else around the globe, with the result that the U.S. is now in the middle of a meltdown. The sooner he decides to act and acts with purpose to dispatch the Assad regime and replace it with the non al-Qaedaalternatives which John McCain swears are available, the better. Only dithering leading to indecisiveness could make the situation worse, but that appears to be exactly the course the president is on this evening.