Stirrings in the U.S. Congress on Syria Could Highlight President Obama’s Startling Reversal on Congressional Authorizations
There are growing signs of opposition in the U.S. Congress to the Obama Administration’s plans to strike Syria. Over 116 Congressmen (98 Republicans, 18 Democrats) signed a letter rejecting the administration’s (Harold Koh) interpretation of the War Powers Act in the Libya case, and demanding that the President seek Congress’s authorization for any strike. Here is a link to the letter spearheaded by Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, a pretty conservative Tea Party-ish Republican.
With polls in the U.S. continuing to show strong opposition to a Syria intervention, it is possible that opposition in Congress could grow in coming days. And, as Jack Goldsmith notes, a Syria strike would be one of the most brazen exercises of unilateral presidential authority to wage war in the last 100 years at least, since there is not even a hint of a self-defense rationale here, nor a threat to U.S. persons or property. In the past, the President’s power to unilaterally engage in military actions have almost always been justified (even if untruthfully) as an act to defend U.S. territory, persons, or property, or that of U.S. allies. Only Libya and Kosovo comes close to Syria in its departure from this pattern of justifications. The President is going out of his way to avoid the self-defense rationale here, even though it is the only one that has a chance of winning broad public support. And he has given no signs that he will go to Congress.
But given Candidate Obama’s rather unequivocal statements during his campaign, it is amazing that he is not criticized more for his rather startling reversal on the need for congressional authorization. Here is a statement he gave the Boston Globe in 2008:
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
Given this statement, shouldn’t he at least have to explain what happened since 2008 to change his view?