All it took was a single vote from the British Parliament, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s dream of joining Obama in a coordinated attack against Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria was crushed.
It’s refreshing to see democracy in action.
But here in the United States, with a minuscule 9% of Americans supporting President Obama’s proposed Syrian military attacks, we have to wonder if democracy is still alive.
In the House of Representatives, 140 members signed an important letter demanding the U.S. Constitution be respected and followed.
The letter was directed to President Obama and organized by Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell:
“We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.”
The letter continues, “While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets. Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”
The keyword in the letter is authorization. Authorization requires a vote of Congress. A House member I spoke to this week told me he believed that “If we can force a vote on this, President Obama will lose.”
However, the member was also frustrated and directed his ire at the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. The member believed that Boehner was conspiring with Obama to keep Congress from voting.
His evidence was none other than the strongly worded missive Boehner had sent to Obama earlier that day. According to this member, “when you closely read Boehner’s letter, you see he isn’t demanding authorization, he is demanding consultation. Consultation is no more than a phone call.”
The key sentence in the Boehner letter is: “I have conferred with the chairmen of the national security committees who have received initial outreach from senior Administration officials, and while the outreach has been appreciated, it is apparent from the questions above that the outreach has, to date, not reached the level of substantive consultation.”
While the Boehner letter sounds tough, it’s really not. The only truly tough action Boehner could take is demanding congressional authorization. The U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8 is very clear about Congress’s role in putting Americans in harm’s way: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy…”
I don’t think this wording could be any clearer. But Congress must stand up for itself and demand that Obama adhere to the U.S. Constitution, or else it may not matter how clear the words are.
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