NY Times calls Obama Syria policy a 'wrong turn'

A pretty good summary by the Times of the arguments for why Congress needs to have a debate about the president's Syria campaign. Bottom line: "In the absence of public understanding or discussion and a coherent plan, the strikes in Syria were a bad decision."

Mr. Obama has failed to ask for or receive congressional authorization for such military action. The White House claims that Mr. Obama has all the authority he needs under the 2001 law approving the use of force in Afghanistan and the 2002 law permitting the use of force in Iraq, but he does not. He has given Congress notification of the military action in Iraq and Syria under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, but that is not a substitute for congressional authorization.

The administration also claims that the airstrikes are legal under international law because they were done in defense of Iraq. In a Sept. 20 letter to the United Nations, Iraq complained that the Islamic State was attacking its territory and said American assistance was needed to repel the threat. But the United Nations Security Council should vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, Congress has utterly failed in its constitutional responsibilities. It has left Washington and gone into campaign fund-raising mode, shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue. That has deprived the country of a full and comprehensive debate over the mission in Syria and has shielded administration officials and military commanders from tough questions about every aspect of this operation — from its costs to its very obvious risks — that should be asked and answered publicly.

So, even though polls have shown public support for airstrikes in Syria, it may not last. Mr. Obama has said there needs to be a sustained mission against ISIS over an unlimited period; it’s unlikely the Americans would back a prolonged campaign if they don’t fully understand the aims or likelihood of success.

The military action early Tuesday was quite different from what Mr. Obama explained in a televised speech on Sept. 10. For months the administration has focused on the ISIS threat, yet these strikes also targeted Khorasan, a group the government says is linked to Al Qaeda and engaged in “active plotting that posed an imminent threat to the United States and potentially our allies.”

It is puzzling that Mr. Obama would address the nation on a terrorist threat and not mention the group that officials now say poses an imminent threat to the United States, which ISIS does not. They say they kept details about Khorasan secret so the group would not know it was being tracked. But past threats, including Osama bin Laden, were discussed openly even as they were tracked.

The Nusra Front and Khorasan are dangerous, but the excuse the president is using for not including them in his speech about action in Syria is ludicrous. By the time the bombs fell on Monday, a couple of dozen news outlets had already done profiles of the terrorist groups so the idea that we didn't want them to know we were tracking them is absurd. They can read too.

The fact is, the president's bellicose rhetoric about eliminating ISIS is not matched by his actions in the field - yet. We are still at the beginning of this operation, but given what we know about the president's past military actions, no one - including the New York Times - is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

A pretty good summary by the Times of the arguments for why Congress needs to have a debate about the president's Syria campaign. Bottom line: "In the absence of public understanding or discussion and a coherent plan, the strikes in Syria were a bad decision."

Mr. Obama has failed to ask for or receive congressional authorization for such military action. The White House claims that Mr. Obama has all the authority he needs under the 2001 law approving the use of force in Afghanistan and the 2002 law permitting the use of force in Iraq, but he does not. He has given Congress notification of the military action in Iraq and Syria under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, but that is not a substitute for congressional authorization.

The administration also claims that the airstrikes are legal under international law because they were done in defense of Iraq. In a Sept. 20 letter to the United Nations, Iraq complained that the Islamic State was attacking its territory and said American assistance was needed to repel the threat. But the United Nations Security Council should vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, Congress has utterly failed in its constitutional responsibilities. It has left Washington and gone into campaign fund-raising mode, shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue. That has deprived the country of a full and comprehensive debate over the mission in Syria and has shielded administration officials and military commanders from tough questions about every aspect of this operation — from its costs to its very obvious risks — that should be asked and answered publicly.

So, even though polls have shown public support for airstrikes in Syria, it may not last. Mr. Obama has said there needs to be a sustained mission against ISIS over an unlimited period; it’s unlikely the Americans would back a prolonged campaign if they don’t fully understand the aims or likelihood of success.

The military action early Tuesday was quite different from what Mr. Obama explained in a televised speech on Sept. 10. For months the administration has focused on the ISIS threat, yet these strikes also targeted Khorasan, a group the government says is linked to Al Qaeda and engaged in “active plotting that posed an imminent threat to the United States and potentially our allies.”

It is puzzling that Mr. Obama would address the nation on a terrorist threat and not mention the group that officials now say poses an imminent threat to the United States, which ISIS does not. They say they kept details about Khorasan secret so the group would not know it was being tracked. But past threats, including Osama bin Laden, were discussed openly even as they were tracked.

The Nusra Front and Khorasan are dangerous, but the excuse the president is using for not including them in his speech about action in Syria is ludicrous. By the time the bombs fell on Monday, a couple of dozen news outlets had already done profiles of the terrorist groups so the idea that we didn't want them to know we were tracking them is absurd. They can read too.

The fact is, the president's bellicose rhetoric about eliminating ISIS is not matched by his actions in the field - yet. We are still at the beginning of this operation, but given what we know about the president's past military actions, no one - including the New York Times - is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.