Obama helps Syria through democratic decision

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On Aug. 31, President Barack Obama made history when he let Congress decide whether to strike Syria or not. 

“The United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” President Obama urged.

The president’s decision was made with a key stipulation: the action outlined by the administration would not take place before a debate was held and a vote was taken by Congress.

This signified a key shift in the use of presidential authority, one that ought to set a precedent.

Syria has suffered some of the greatest casualties to date felt by groups opposed to the government, as well as by civilians.

On Aug. 21, the use of chemical weapons punctuated the violence that had by most accounts receded to a dull roar. Instantly, the world was abuzz with images and videos of hospitals overflowing, people trembling and gagging as a result of the poisonous gas, and bodies piling up in bags along the streets.

The president unabashedly announced that the United States would take military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad for using the poisonous nerve agent sarin against its own people.

Obama emphasized one critical difference that would separate his decision from predecessors.  As the president of “the worlds oldest constitutional democracy, ” he would seek the approval of Congress before giving the order for an armed strike, despite “having the authority to carry out action without specific congressional approval.”

Cast in the light of previous military interventions made on the basis of faulty intelligence, namely the war in Iraq, some question whether the president made a decision that could meet disastrous ends. 

Obama’s rhetoric during his speech emphasized the involvement of the citizenry. By involving congress and giving the people of the U.S. an opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns, the intentions of the president have become clearer and undergone necessary constructive scrutiny.

Moreover, given recent developments, most notably the offer by Russia to coax its Syrian ally into relinquishing its chemical weapons to the international community for oversight and eventual destruction, it is unmistakably clear that the president’s approach has worked: By threatening militaristic measures, the U.S. effectively pressured Assad and his allies into action. But, had the president not sought out a domestic discussion of the issue, no window for such a resolution to be proposed would have existed.

Despite having the autonomy to act without the consent of international organizations, the U.S. government is still accountable to county it serves. Obama’s closing statements resonated with a precedent that one might hope future executives lead by: “Our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”