Steve Chapman

Maybe he realized that his National Security Agency's surveillance program had pushed many of his supporters to the limits of their indulgence and that they needed a reminder of why they voted for him. Or maybe Obama got up Saturday morning, saw the grinning face of Bush in his bathroom mirror, and decided it was time for a change.

In his expansive view of executive authority, Obama had not been as bad as Bush; he had been worse. Bush claimed vast powers as commander in chief but asked and got Congress to authorize the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama went to war in Libya without giving Congress the time of day, and he apparently was ready to do the same in Syria. The craven record of legislators on such matters gave him every reason to believe he could get away with it.

A sudden reversion to his past ideals cannot be ruled out. But there were also sound political reasons to take a more inclusive approach.

Obama unwisely climbed out on a limb when he warned that any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross a "red line." He obviously feels he has to take action in following through on his threat, even if it doesn't promise to do any good. Going to Congress offers a way out: If the votes go against him, he's off the hook. Supposing Congress goes along, though, he has someone to share the blame with if things go badly.

Whatever it was, it was an overdue step toward recognizing that the person holding our highest office has only limited powers, and for good reason. When a president wants to incur the dangers of war, he had better make sure the nation is behind him. And if it's not, that ought to matter.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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