Barack Obama is exposing the faultlines of US power as he goes all out to win a vote to attack Syria.
As commander in chief of the US armed forces, Obama could have ordered military action without support from the Republican-dominated Congress.
But he suddenly shifted tack when David Cameron was forced to withdraw from supporting an attack after losing the vote in the House of Commons.
Obama then said he would go to Congress to win support for military intervention. He claimed this would show that the US has “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people”.
If it really was a government of the people then there would be no war. Public opinion in the US is solid against bombing Syria.
In a campaign to shift the public mood the government has released footage of children and other civilians after a chemical weapons attack.
Despite this the latest polls show that 70 percent of Americans do not think launching an attack is the answer.
Anti-war activist Medea Benjamin has been campaigning around Congress for a no vote. She said, “Just going into the offices, you hear the phones ringing constantly and you hear the receptionist saying, ‘Yes, I will register your opposition to a US invasion of Syria’.”
And the ruling class is split. There are open rows about the risk for the US being dragged into another drawn out conflict.
Obama now finds his authority as a president is in the balance, but not only that. He made a big issue of saying that chemical weapons were a “red line” that could not be crossed.
The US is still the world’s biggest imperialist power. It still wants to swagger around the globe dictating terms to other countries, so it cannot afford to look weak.
But its economy has just gone through its worst crisis since the 1930s. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have eroded US power instead of shoring up it.
This is why Obama has so far held back from action despite all the tough talk about Bashar al-Assad’s regime in recent months. The risks of intervening outweighed the risks of holding back.
The situation changed not because Obama was moved by videos of suffering children—any military intervention will be done solely if it serves US imperialist interests.
But his hesitation shows that, just like Cameron, he can’t completely ignore the opposition to war at every level of society. Whether Obama wins the vote or not his attempt to prove US power has also exposed its weaknesses.
Cameron still wants to bomb
David Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague have been doing all they can for Obama’s war plans, despite losing their own vote in parliament.
Hague welcomed John Kerry on Monday of this week. The US secretary of state was touring the offices of world leaders to find support for an attack on Syria.
Hague promised “full diplomatic support” to the US. He has pledged to share intelligence gathered from Britain’s GCHQ outpost in Cyprus with the US.
Hague said on Sunday that the government would only bring the issue back to parliament “if circumstances change dramatically”.