The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congress hasn’t authorized military action in Syria. Americans think it should.

(Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters)

President Obama hasn't asked Congress for approval to use military force in either Iraq or Syria, and few members of Congress are begging for the chance. But, at least in Syria, a strong majority of Americans think Congress should weigh in.

A new poll this week from CBS News shows about six in 10 Americans (62 percent) think the current actions in Syria require congressional approval. Another 33 percent disagree.

Similarly, 80 percent think member of Congress should desert the campaign trail, come back to Washington, and debate the use of force against the Islamic State.

Those are pretty strong numbers. But it's highly unlikely they'll force any kind of action.

That's because, however many Americans feel Congress should approve military action, very few of them are speaking out against the decision to go into Iraq and Syria without congressional approval. To be sure, Americans would like for their duly elected representatives to sign off, but they're not exactly incensed that Congress hasn't been asked. And people largely approve of what they've seen so far, as far as the airstrikes go.

Congress has approved funding for the arming and training of moderate Syrian rebels, but the administration hasn't sought new approval for the use of force in either Iraq or Syria.

In addition, neither the White House nor Congress wants anything to do with another use-of-force resolution.

Obama saw how dicey this could be a year ago when he asked for approval to launch airstrikes in retaliation to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people. Congress was primed to reject that request before the White House opted to negotiate a deal, under which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons, rather than pursue the airstrikes.

And Congress, meanwhile, has seen what a pro-war vote can do to their colleagues. Voting to authorize the Iraq war might have cost Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination and the presidency in 2008, and plenty of Republicans lost in 2006 and 2008 after voting for what became an unpopular war in Iraq. Very few members of Congress are genuinely pressing the idea that they need to have their say.

Which is a long way of saying, yes, the American people, if they had their druthers, would see Congress approve the use of force.

But until Obama, Congress or the American people really insist upon it, the White House has very little incentive to seek it.