We previously discussed the curious step of President Obama seeking approval for a new war while insisting that he does not need such authorization to attack Syria. Now, Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to a one week period for Syria to comply with U.S. demands or presumably face an attack. It so happens that the Senate is set to vote this week, but opposition in this country is extremely high to yet another military intervention by the Administration. Moreover, unsuccessful in his earlier pitch for a free war, Kerry is now trying to sell the world on an “unbelievably small” military campaign. The U.S. seems to be saying that President Obama just needs the world to let him attack briefly to show that he cannot be dismissed or mocked in his earlier red line announcement. However, Kerry suggested a new red line in turning over control of the weapons and Russia has now announced that it will ask Syria to put chemical weapons under international control. That would undermine further the U.S. rationale for war if Russia says that it is moving to comply with Kerry’s demand. However, State Department handlers are trying to again walk back from the Secretary’s public statements.
Kerry was speaking on Monday alongside his British counterpart, William Hague, when he set a new red line for war. He said “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it) but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”
As has become a common scene with Kerry, a team of State Department officials quickly rushed in to clean up after his latest slip. The Department insisted that the reference to a week was merely “rhetorical,” though the Administration continues to insist that Obama could simply ignore a negative vote in Congress.
I previously represented members of Congress in challenging Obama’s intervention in the Libyan civil war without a declaration from Congress. In the case, President Obama insisted that he alone determines what is a war and therefore when he needs a declaration. Since the court would not recognize standing to challenge the war, it left Obama free to engage in war operations in any country of his choosing.
While Kerry conveyed a week deadline and did not indicate any restriction on unilateral U.S. action, the State Department asked people to ignore his precise words and just take the statement as an attempt to show that Assad has “a history of playing fast and loose with the facts.” Of course, as opposed to those how play fast and loose with words.
I particularly liked the comment for Hague when asked about the decision of Parliament not to allow Britain to enter another American-led war. Hague responded that “[t]hese are the two greatest homes of democracy and we work in slightly different ways and we each have to respect how each other’s democracies work.” Yes, the difference appears that the British government respects the need for a legislative consent for war while the United States now has an unabashed Imperial Presidency.