It appears that President Obama is preparing a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We have no idea what sort of military response. I doubt it will be boots on the ground, at least not yet. More likely some strategic bombing of specific targets. Here’s the evidence that such planning is taking place:
All the action and body language over the weekend suggests that the United States is preparing for some kind of military response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The question is: Just what kind of response will it be? On Saturday, President Obama met with his national security team, and he called British Prime Minister David Cameron. “The two leaders expressed their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime… The United States and UK stand united in our opposition to the use of chemical weapons,” the White House said per a readout of the call. And on Sunday, the president spoke with French President Hollande. (These are the types of calls a president makes to both build support and inform of upcoming plans. Also of note, Secretary of State John Kerry spent the weekend briefing and speaking with a slew of Arab allies, particular the folks in the Gulf States, who could drive an Arab League decision that gives the U.S. the international legal justification it is currently looking for.) Indeed, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY,” the United States and its allies are considering military options — most likely, cruise missiles from Navy destroyers and submarines in the Mediterranean or U.S. fighter jets targeting Syrian airfields from where chemical attacks could be launched. “I do think action is going to occur,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said on “TODAY.” The question no longer seems to be “if”; rather, it’s “when,” “how,” and “how long.”
And there will be barely a peep from Congress. As Patrick Appel puts it at Andrew Sullivan’s blog:
War is the one area where the normal rules of politics are suspended. A president need not convince the American people or Congress that war is advisable. He need not explain the costs and benefits of force. Popular domestic policy proposals are routinely killed thanks to the fillibuster or the House’s ideological fanaticism, but deeply unpopular foreign policy interventions are carried out without haste…
Hawkishness is Washington’s default setting – it remains one stubborn bit of bipartisan agreement in an era of deepening partisanship.
Even though only Congress has the power to declare war (and hasn’t done so since WWII despite the many wars that have happened in the meantime), the president now does so pretty much unilaterally. And Congress likes it that way. It absolves them of responsibility. If it all works out fine, they can praise it; if things go bad, they can blame the president.
What about the public? So far, the polls show very little support for intervention:
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it. That represented a decline in backing for U.S. action since August 13, when Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found that 30.2 percent of Americans supported intervention in Syria if chemicals had been used, while 41.6 percent did not.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned historically, it’s that the American people almost instinctively jump on the bandwagon for war once the bombs start flying. The government is very good at marketing war, using the same tools — fear, insecurity, groupthink, nationalism — used to sell toothpaste and cars, and Americans as a group are very prone to such manipulation. We only jump off the bandwagon if it becomes clear we won’t “win” an easy victory.