When I broke off blogging for the Labor Day Weekend, the US seemed locked and loaded for a strike on Syria, but on Saturday we learned that any action will be deferred until Congress can approve. I've generally been supportive of the Administration's caution on Syria, but in a situation in which there are no good options, I fear this may be the worst. It gives the Syrian regime a respite and an opportunity to disperse targets and move civilians onto potential target sites, and it assures a public debate at a time when public opinion is clearly hostile toward American action. Unless the intention is, actually, to avoid action by hoping Congress blocks it, it seems the worst of all possible approaches. The limits of a one-time, surgical, cruise and standoff missiles-only strike are considerable to begin with; such a strike's effectiveness in these circumstances is likely to be further reduced.
Admittedly, it is refreshing to see a US President defer in this way to Constitutional procedures (though I noticed that Obama cited the Constitution, not the War Powers Act of 1973, which every president for 40 years has claimed is unconstitutional but which has never been fully challenged in the courts). But why wait until the last moment to do so?
Some worthy reads on multiple sides of the issue, by people who know the subject well:
Fred Hof for The Atlantic Council, "A Mystifying Lack of US Preparedness." He calls the decision "constitutionally sound, but strategically appalling."
Murhaf Jouejati for Al-Monitor: "US Military Force Could Promote Diplomacy in Syria."
Gary Sick: "Calibrating the Attack on Syria." A good statement of the contradictory pressures faced in reaching any decision on this complex issue.
The International Crisis Group: "Syria Statement." A nuanced approach emphasizing the need for a diplomatic breakthrough on Syria whether or not a strike takes place.
As I said, all of these views deserve attention. Much more than the usual uninformed talking heads on television. But, purely for the record, some unusual folks are expressing skepticism about intervention, including John Bolton who, I thought, never met a war he didn't like, and even Donald Rumsfeld, of all people. The fact that those two are against it is a fairly strong argument for it, but at this point the whole issue of what to do and how and when to do it is so muddled that the coming debate could go in almost any direction.