The drums of war have been beating ever more loudly this week, as the Obama Administration has been building a case for military action against Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens. I generally oppose the U.S. military being used as “policemen” for the entire world, and getting involved in Syria’s civil war is fraught with many dangers – an attack on Syria could easily result in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and possibly even Iran attacking Western targets around the world, including Israel. And there is no win-win in sight for ending the Syrian civil war. President Assad is a tyrannical despot determined to do anything to remain in power. And Al Qaeda backed militia have infiltrated the rebel forces – if Assad is toppled we could easily end up with a radical Islamic government in power, right between our allies Turkey and Israel. But, I do believe the use of chemical weapons cannot and must not be tolerated anywhere in the world. Accordingly, I reluctantly support a limited air strike to cripple the Syrian military’s ability to launch further chemical weapon attacks, and send a strong message to Assad and his military that if they do try to use chemical weapons again, it will hurt them more than their targets. But, I urge President Obama to set an example, call Congress back into session, and get a Congressional vote approving the military action BEFORE striking Syria.
As Commander-in-Chief the President has the authority to immediately use our military forces to protect America and our citizens from any direct threat, whether it be from terrorists or any foreign government. But, as despicable as Assad is, he poses no threat to our national security. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show last night, and made a very compelling case why President Obama should seek Congressional approval prior to taking any military action in Syria. Congressman Rigell is one of the few Republicans in Congress who comes off as reasonable, and sensible. Today he will deliver a letter to the White House urging President Obama to get congressional authorization before taking military action against Syria. As of mid-Wednesday morning Rigell had collected 58 signatures, which include nine Democrats and House Homeland Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-TX).
“We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria,” the letter reads. “Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973″.
Congressman Rigell happens to be right. Under the United States Constitution, war powers are divided. Congress has the power to declare war, raise and support the armed forces, control the war funding. It is generally agreed that the Commander-in-Chief role gives the President power to repel attacks against the United States, and makes the President responsible for leading the armed forces. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, the United States found itself involved for many years in situations of intense conflict without a declaration of war. Many members of Congress became concerned with the erosion of congressional authority to decide when the United States should become involved in a war or the use of armed forces that might lead to war. The War Powers Resolution was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon. By a two-thirds vote in each house, Congress overrode the veto and enacted the joint resolution into law on November 7, 1973. Presidents have submitted 130 reports to Congress as a result of the War Powers Resolution, although only one (the Mayagüez incident) specifically stated that forces had been introduced into hostilities or imminent danger. And the War Powers Act has been clearly violated twice: by President Reagan in regards to the aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, and by President Clinton in 1999, during the bombing campaign in Kosovo. Both incidents have had congressional disapproval, but neither had any successful legal actions taken against a President for violations.
I don’t think President Obama necessarily has to obtain Congressional approval before acting in Syria. He could order a limited strike on Syria’s military infrastructure, and then seek Congressional authorization for any further involvement. I just think it’s a really, really good idea to get approval first. Public opinion polls show a large majority oppose any U.S. involvement in Syria, and a debate in Congress will lay out the arguments for and against strike, so that we as a country can make an informed decision. And, Congress needs to get back to work. It is not scheduled to reconvene until September 9, and it will have a lot on its plate – it must pass a “Continuing Resolution” to fund the government, and the debt limit must be raised by mid-October or the U.S. Government will be forced to default on its debt and shut down, which would be a disaster. The two sides are deeply polarized, with many on the far right clamoring to shut down the government in a futile attempt to “defund Obamacare”, while many on the left say “no negotiation with terrorists”. Mr. President, call Congress back into session this week! Tell them “Sorry to ruin your Labor Day BBQ picnic plans, but we have work to get done“. I believe Congress would approve retaliatory air strikes with a large bipartisan majority. Then use that bipartisan majority to push through funding for the government and the absolutely necessary increase in the debt limit. OK, maybe the last sentence is perhaps a bit iffy- too many Republicans believe “compromise” is a dirty word, or at best “compromise” means getting Democrats to see things their way. But Congressional approval before taking any action in Syria? It’s the right thing to do.
“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
- Then Illinois Senator Obama in 2007, answering a question from the Boston Globe regarding concerns that then-President George W. Bush might bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress. From The Huffington Post.