The news broke over the weekend that President Obama has had a change of heart about his approach to the conflict in Syria. He still agrees that military action needs to take place, but has now decided to seek the approval of Congress before doing so.
As someone who has favored intervention in Syria (though, as I’ve argued on Facebook, I’m not a military or geopolitical expert enough to know how exactly it should happen and do not want to just indiscriminately start dropping bombs…I just believe that doing nothing is not the answer), you might expect that I would be frustrated by this seeming step back from decisive action. I’m not, though. Not entirely.
My endorsement of President Obama’s approach has to do with the fact that this is the appropriate path that such military efforts should take in the United States. The Constitution indicates quite clearly in Article I, Section Clause 8, 1 that it is the power of the Congress to declare war. Though various presidents have used their role as Commander-in-Chief to engage in all sorts of military actions and wars, in reality it seems to be the place of the Congress (i.e. the representatives of the people) to decide if we are going to enter into military struggles. While it is true that an actual declaration of war has not taken place since December 1941, Congress has often taken votes surrounding other military conflicts (Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq War), . There is, it seems, a kind of war Congress can authorize which is not a war. Peculiar, that. In any case, they’ve had a say.
While a declaration of war may be, considering its rarity in American history, too much to ask for here, at least we might hope for a resolution endorsing the necessary intervention that the Obama administration has asked for. To not give Congress its chance to speak would be undemocratic and ignore the War Powers Resolution of 1973, passed in the wake of Vietnam and requiring Congress to endorse or reject military authorization (thus limiting the unilateral power of the President in this area).
As I support a careful intervention to help save lives and draw the line against chemical weapons, I also believe it is worth it for our nation’s representatives to take a stand together. They should listen to what is hopefully a strong case from the administration replete with clear evidence, and make their choice. I hope that, now that the weight of this decision rests more generally on the Congress, they would realize their responsibility to do what is best. In this I agree with a helpful article from Slate:
No more lazy sniping—or hollow rooting—from the sidelines. Those who have long urged Obama to do something about Syria, and then criticized him in recent days for doing something (just because it’s Obama who’s doing it), will now have to step up and take a stand.
This said, I do fear for what will happen if Congress chooses to do nothing at all. Because of my feelings about the Constitution in this matter, I agree that President Obama would be left with little latitude if Congress votes “no.” If they decide we should not intervene, the force we can use will be limited if at all. I do not believe that ignoring the War Powers Resolution (as some presidents have before) would be legal. Obama might still act–and face the consequences, but the people will have spoken. I will say this, though: it could very well be to our shame if we do nothing. And because it is our Senators and Congressional Representatives who are involved, this ignominy would devolve to all of us.
Moreover, whatever happens likely ought to take place quickly, and this looks not to be the case. Congress does not meet again until 9 September, and I would worry for what a murderous regime will do in the days to come. I wish that our democracy could move a little faster.
As always, I welcome your criticism and thoughts.