Congress is out of town now, and Obama is not calling on them to reconvene. He said that Saturday morning he’d spoken “with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session.” That will be September 9th, though the leaders can call them back if they want to. The President said that time was not against him here: “The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose,” he said. “Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”

After the speech, a correspondent on CNN wondered how that would sound to Syrians suffering from the war—if they might be angry, as the fighting continued. But since the President also made clear that his goal was not regime change, or “putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war,” that wasn’t going to be stopped anyway. Dropping a few missiles and leaving, which is what the President has in mind, could as easily be an instrument of increased chaos—one of many points that ought to be debated in Congress. A quick strike is something that the Assad regime could put behind it, and sometimes a spectre can be more of a deterrent than a strike. The delay, as frustrating as it might be for some, means at minimum a period of uncertainty for the regime forces.

Did Obama have to do this because when Prime Minister David Cameron went to Parliament he lost? I’ve argued that he did: it removed the idea that any military action would be a sort of no-jury-could-convict-me, anyone-would-do-it response to an attack—that consent could be assumed.

This may be the first sensible step that Obama has taken in the Syrian crisis, and may prove to be one of the better ones of his Presidency—even if he loses the vote, as could happen. Politically, he may have just saved his second term from being consumed by Benghazi-like recriminations and spared himself Congressional mendacity about what they all might have done.

Obama is certainly taking a risk, but that’s what the Presidency should be, and this one is worth it. The worst outcomes would involve either Congress or the President dodging this moment and its meaning. Congress might do so by constructing some legislative monstrosity, as it did during the debt-ceiling crisis, that relies on a complicated series of mechanisms that assure nothing—except that whatever happens is Obama’s fault—or too-sweeping powers. And the most disastrous thing that Obama could do is not admitting that he’s lost if he does, and bombing anyway. Perhaps it’s too optimistic to say that his decision might be what keeps some future President, our country, and who knows what other nation and people from the sort of tragedy that destroys cities. But it will certainly help, in an area where the world needs all the help it can get. And that makes this a morally important moment for the President as well.

Courtesy New Yorker.