WASHINGTON, September 1, 2013 — Obama’s legal analysis during the Bush administration now differs from his current judicial cabinet. Obama’s remarks Saturday stand in contrast to his position in 2007 when he said:
“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.”
And then candidate Obama was correct. The Constitution assigns Congress the power to “declare” war, however in times of an emergency the president can act without congressional approval if “the US is under sudden attack.”
The president has said he will use executive power to strike Syria if necessary, and there is precedent for him to fall back on. Before Libya, U.S. military operations in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were conducted without Capitol Hill’s approval to declare war.
As in Libya, Obama expects to take the same limited air strike approach with Syria. However his asking Congress for approval may be no more than a bit of posterior coverage if things don’t go as planned.
“This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope” said Obama.
Many experts are voicing fears that like Iraq, a quick strike is a near impossibility and that once in Syria we will be there for a while.
Unlike Libya where he indicated that the strike does not serve to impose a direct regime change, the President wants to “hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”
All of which is on big executive sized order.
Seeking Congressional approval risks failure to get authorization as seen when British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to gain Parliamentary approval to take military action against the Assad regime on Thursday.
Cameron stated that he would not override the Parliament and use his authority to take military action.
It is unclear if Obama will take military action if Congress does not vote to use force. The Commander-in-Chief, leaving the Rose Garden, did not respond when asked if he would still take action if lawmakers does not approve military intervention.
In his remarks on Saturday, Obama cautions Congress with a familiar refrain and, “to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment.”
The bipartisan letter sent to the President this week indicates that lawmakers are not divided by party loyalties. Republicans and Democrats communicated to the Obama that he must seek approval from Congress.
And approval may be difficult to achieve.
“We are not the world’s policeman,” said Florida Democrat Rep. Alan Grayson on Twitter Thursday. Republicans Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky who are known anti-interventionist probably would agree with the tweet.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has long advocated for military action, therefore he is in opposition to some of his fellow party members.
Like Congress, the international community is divided on the issue. France has indicated that it sides with America, but Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects the Obama’s claim that Assad used chemical weapons calling it “utter nonsense”.
At the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia next week, Obama will have the opportunity to convince other world leaders to join him against Assad. Although the United Nations inspectors have not released their findings yet, Obama’s position is based on the U.S. government assessment that was publicly released Friday.
In addition the recent government assessment, according to the August 20 report by the Congressional Research Service, Syria has kept a stockpile of chemical weapons at least since the early 1980s. During that time the Syrian military was trained by the Soviets who provided the chemical delivery tools such as scud missiles and batteries of rocket launchers to “rapidly achieve lethal doses of non-persistent agents in a concentrated area.”
Alexander Hamilton said that “it is the peculiar and exclusive province of Congress, when the nation is at peace, to change that state into a state of war; … it belongs to Congress only, to go to war.”
Given the faulty American government report in 2003, which wrongly accused Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction, Obama will find it difficult to persuade Putin and perhaps other world leaders on U.S. intelligence alone.
Mobilizing Congress by comparison may be easier.
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