Obama has announced that he will seek permission from Congress before launching military strikes on Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons. I think this is really good news.
Obama is not seeking permission because of his respect for the U.S. Constitution. He is not seeking permission because he values the judgment of those in Congress. He is not seeking permission because he has decided it is important to be cautious before entering another war. He is not seeking permission in order to better understand the facts of what happened in Syria.
The only reason that Obama is seeking permission from Congress is because of public opinion. Most Americans are against U.S. military action in Syria and most Americans believe that Congress should authorize such action if it is to be taken. (The Constitution actually calls for a declaration of war.)
I have no idea whether Congress will authorize military force. I know it won’t even vote on a declaration of war. Perhaps Congress will grant approval and Obama will order a strike. This would still be an atrocity. Just because Congress authorizes a war, it doesn’t make it good or just.
Nonetheless, the idea that Obama has backed off and is now asking Congress for authorization is really good news. It is not that Obama respects the opinions of the average American. It is just that he understands that he needs the consent of the governed in order to “rule”.
Obama and his advisors realized that public opinion was overwhelmingly against Obama acting like a dictator and attacking Syria. If Obama had gone ahead with his plans and the war unexpectedly escalated, it could have meant serious problems for Obama. What if a large percentage of people started demanding impeachment?
In many ways, I think politicians have a better understanding that they rely on the tacit consent of the citizenry than the average person does. This is why politicians rely on propaganda so much. They can use threats of violence, but it will only carry them so far if a large percentage of people rebel or just refuse to grant their consent.
We live in a country with approximately 310 million people. There is only one president and only 535 people in Congress. Their power is nothing if the hundreds of millions of people do not grant it. The only reason these few people can control hundreds of millions of people is because the people are not willing to challenge the system that exists. They may disagree with specific policies, but overall, they consent to being governed in such a way.
The good news is that the tide is shifting. I think more and more people are becoming skeptical of the system. This partial reversal by Obama on Syria shows that there is some fear on his part not to overstep his bounds. It shows that public opinion is changing for the better and that it is having a positive effect. Just a few days ago, it looked like another U.S. war was inevitable. Now it is being delayed and there is even the possibility that it could be stopped. This is an important development.