Almost exactly a year ago, the commander-in-chief transformed himself into a constitutional law professor and held a seminar in the magnificent East Room of the White House. Yes, said President Barack Obama, he had the authority to order military attacks in Syria, but he wouldn’t do so without backing from Congress. America would be stronger, he said, if it stood together.
His words then are current again today – even if some in the Obama administration wish they were forgotten. The congressional debate demanded by the president did not proceed in 2013 as he hoped. The plan to punish Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad for killing his own people with poison gas did not convince Congress. A U.S. attack was cancelled and the image of a despondent world power emerged – with a caricature commander-in-chief caught in his own trap of “on the one hand” and “on the other.”
One should learn from mistakes, but the teaching cannot go on without debate. There is only one way for the U.S. government, which is now considering military operations again in Syria, this time against ISIS, the Sunni militant group that is arguably the most powerful terror organization in history. The way leads to Capitol Hill, into Congress. Georges Clemenceau, the French leader during World War I, understood this well: War is too important to leave to generals.
Over the last year, much has happened in Syria and the Middle East, and there is much for President Obama to explain. Meanwhile, America and Mr. Assad are fighting de facto on the same side. They share a common enemy: the bands of murderers in ISIS.