31 August 2013

Another sign of an "imperial presidency" ?

According to an NBC poll, "nearly 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria."

Whatever the "margin of error" inherent in the sample pool, it's clear what the American people think about this matter.  Will Obama seek approval from Congress?

Earlier this summer I wrote a post in which I suggested the Obama administration was exhibiting behavior consistent with an "imperial presidency." I later withdrew (deleted) the post because comments from several readers convinced me that I may have overinterpreted the data.   We'll see what happens this time...


  1. The U.S. has not been attacked, an ally has not been attacked, and we have not been threatened by the regime in Syria. We the people must make the decission to put our lives, our wealth, and our reputation on the line and congress is the body empowered to do so by the laws of the land. We are not the world police. Even if we were the task at hand would have to be clear before action was taken and it unfortunately isn't clear.

  2. While I don't see the Obama presidency as being any more (or less) "imperial" than any other presidency, it certainly is disheartening any time an elected leader goes against the will of the people. Arguably, this is one of the reasons we even elect a president... to make those decisions that are in our best interest, even when it goes against the public. We choose the best decision-maker.

    I was a supporter of Obama, and to some degree still am, and I do agree with the notion that someone must hold nations accountable when they cause harm that goes against the consensus of the world's people, as it sets a dangerous precedent if we don't hold nations and individuals accountable for such monstrous actions. That being said, if no other nation seeks action, and the UN does not support strikes, the US has no credible support that its decision is the right one. If the US strikes, it will again be clear evidence that the US is attempting to assume the role of a moral leader in the world, which is always terribly ironic.

    Meanwhile, we're still conducting strikes in Yemen and wondering why a couple kids from Yemen were angry enough to attack us.

  3. I generally favor Obama. I don't feel that he's particularly imperial compared to what's preceded him.
    His options in this situation are kinda crap though.
    I've seen good arguments for why Obama might want to send in a few punishment missiles to dissuade Assad and future dictators from using chemical weapons... telegraphed ahead of time to make it more ritual than outright attack (blow up some government infrastructure, don't try to kill Assad).
    I'd probably be OK with that... but not if we don't have allied support.
    If the rest of the world decides they'd rather turn their backs on the use of chemical weapons I don't see how we can make much of a point by standing alone against it.

  4. Military pressure is, in fact, needed here- since pretty much all else has already failed. When people refuse to act voluntarily, and in all good conscience- military action is that last, desperate measure of resort. Unfortunately, we blew all measure of acting in good conscience out of the water when we slaughtered hundreds of thousands in Iraq for no good reason whatsoever- other than an imaginary financial windfall that never materialized (save for Halliburton and a few other private contractors). So there's really no good reason why anyone in that area (or anywhere else in the world) should trust our best of noble intentions this time around.

    Obama did paint himself into a corner, his best option right now is to just let Congress vote, which provides him an easy out (the Cameron route). Basically, we've squandered a possible opportunity to do good (no guarantees, of course), because of the massive evil we inflicted in the name of greed previously.

    Strategically, we should have acted sooner when chemicals were used the first time. Now, Al Qaeda has a foothold with the rebels and we would ultimately replace a secular authoritarian regime with a religious one.

    At this point our efforts would best be placed in addressing the overwhelming refugee problem that has already eclipsed the hundreds of thousands...

  5. i'm tellin' ya.

    somebody could make a killing seeling bumperstickers that say

    DEMOCRATS 2014

  6. The Constitution grants Congress alone the power to declare war.


    Any President who wages war without Congressional approval should be impeached and convicted.

    1. Technically, only congress has the power to declare war (Article I, Section 8). Of course, there's always the sticky part of defining "war" as opposed to "military action", which the President (as Commander in Chief) has power to direct.

    2. The administration has not proposed declaring war on Syria. What's on the table is a limited "punitive" strike on military targets in an attempt to warn Assad to stop using chemical weapons. Obama doesn't have to get congressional approval for that, but he's decided to ask for it anyway. Whether he won't do it if he doesn't get approval is another question.

    3. I'm relieved that Obama has chosen to go to Congress to seek authorization. That is the right, proper and Constitutional thing to do.

      Swift, if a foreign navy sat off the US coast and lobbed missiles at military targets in the US interior, would that be an act of war or a "limited 'punitive' strike"?

    4. It would be funny to see every living president of the U.S.A. in jail. They must thank God for loopholes every evening prayer...

    5. In the US, impeachment and conviction doesn't put an official in jail. It just removes him/her from office.

  7. I am hoping that Obama is doing this in order to take the Cameron route; that is, asking for congressional approval, which he likely won't get, so that he can appear tough on Assad without actually having to thrust us into another military endeavor.

  8. Imperial Presidency? LOL

    Obama is seeking Congressional approval.

    George Bush presented false intel to the world.

    Clinton bombed Kosovo without authorization from Congress. Where was the threat to the US?

    George H.W. Bush attacked Panama without approval. Oh, sure, the Canal. Right.

    Reagan didn't seek congressional authorization before invading Grenada. University students not in danger.

    Reagan sold arms to Iranians (of all people) so he could fund Contra rebels, despite Congress PROHIBITING the very thing.

    1. Hoped to find a word here about Carter and the massacre in East Timor.

      Here's a nice reference for a list:


    2. As a matter of rhetoric, if you wish to advance a case about human rights and peace, you shouldn't cite a supporter of Pol Pot.

      Citing Noam Chomsky is like citing a Neo-Nazi: intellectually feasible, but risky.

    3. Oh Gosh, John, you have no idea of what you're talking about... it is so sad to know that people like you are still falling for that strawman argument. I would direct you to the specifics of why you are completely misguided by your wingnut references, but the disillusion just takes away all my forces, I'm sorry.

    4. @ anon - at the time I posted this Obama had NOT yet sought Congressional approval (which is why I wrote the post). And the argument that a president is "not as bad as previous presidents" is particularly weak. It doesn't imply correctness and is a dreadful legacy to leave.

      And I notice that two of my favorite readers (and best debaters) seem to be locking horns. This could be interesting.

    5. Paulo, are we still taking about Noam Chomsky? He was a big fan of Pol Pot, the communist dictator who murdered one fourth of the population of his country.

      You know, that Noam Chomsky--the fanboy of genocide.

      But, yes, please tell me what your genocide-loving political thinker has to say about this issue. If memory serves, his name is Noam Chomsky. You may remember him from his role as a booster of the Khmer Rouge regime. You know: the one that murdered one fourth of the population of Cambodia. The one that Noam Chomsky loved.

    6. John,

      If all you have is ad hominem, I believe myself once again excused of correcting your view.

    7. I know little about Chomsky's thoughts on Pol Pot, but the suggestion that he was a fan of genocide seems... well... inconsistent to say the least. I found this article that perhaps sheds light on what has led people to make this assumption.


      I am not familiar with the source, but I would be interested to hear any counterarguments.

    8. Paulo, as I was speaking of rhetoric and not logic, I don't agree. But you're welcome to abandon the point and let my assertion that Noam Chomsky supported Pol Pot stand.

      Topher, I'm looking at (through a subscription database) an article that Chomsky wrote on p.789-794 in the 6/25/1977 (vol. 25, i. 25) issue of The Nation. It's entitled "Distortions of the Fourth Hand." In it, Chomsky denies at length allegations of genocide. He goes through reports, one by one, asserting that photographs are faked and reports are lies but where there is evidence of genocide, what happened is actually American work. Chomsky says that reports of genocide are false:

      Even if one places some credence in this reported interview nowhere in it does Khieu Samphan suggest that the million postwar deaths were the result of official policies (as opposed to the lag effects of a war of a war that left large numbers ill, injured, and on the verge of starvation). The 'slaughter' of the Khmer Rouge is a Moss-New York Times creation. (792)

    9. John,

      Your assertion that Chomsky supported Pol Pot, per se, is of no validity if not backed by information. The loaded rhetoric of it is also a sign of its vicious parciality.

      I don't have access to the full content of the article you are citing, but the citation has no characteristic of a defense of the regime. To say that something claimed about or by somebody is a lie is not to support, of for that matter, neither oppose that person's attitudes - Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.

      Nevertheless, it is a very common attitude of nationalists to be detractors of anybody who poses questions on the "facts" publicized by their governments; as we saw during the iraqi WMD fiasco and may be seeing again in the case of Syria.

  9. I might add, Nixon went into Cambodia without consulting Congress and kept it a SECRET. We just attacked Libya without approval from Congress.

    Truman did not seek a Declaration of War from Congress.

    Gosh, this post pisses me off.

  10. I have heard that one of the causes of World War One was the fact that the politicians and diplomats dithered and debated so long after the Archduke was assassinated that what would have been seen as simply a local affair (the attack of Austria on Serbia) became a World War. True or not, I don't know. But what I do know is this: the Republicans (or perhaps I should say, at least some Republicans) in Congress are so unwilling to given the President anything, that they would do anything to keep him from gaining even a very minor measure of legitimacy. They would debate this so long that it would almost become a moot point.


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