(Providence, Rhode Island) – With everyone talking about possible military action in Syria, I thought it might be interesting to review some of the issues at stake. Every time we get into a situation like this, there is a lot of confusion about what any President can and cannot do. As for what the President should or should not do - well, I’ll leave it up to you to share your opinions.
“Hail to the Chief” – According to Article II of the Constitution: “The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” That’s it. It’s not a list of “cans” and “cant’s,” but rather a statement that he’s supposed to be the boss.
“Now Wait a Minute” – On the other hand, Article I of the Constitution grants some defense responsibilities to Congress, including the power: “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; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” So, a check and a checkmate from the Founding Fathers!
“So Who’s the Boss?” – This is an age-old conflict that has cropped up often, including wars (undeclared) and military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq II, and now Syria. The Constitution is clearly in conflict, and at the same time the Constitution seems to be saying it’s also a shared responsibility. This has been a continuing American dilemma, but at its most intense over the past 60 years.
“The Fix Is In?” - In 1973 - frustrated by the length of the Vietnam War - Congress passed the War Powers Act to try to curb a President's conducting military action without Congressional approval. The law requires a President to notify Congress 48 hours in advance of military action and further stipulates that troops can operate for only 60 days (plus a 30-day withdrawal period), unless Congress authorizes more time and funding. The Act is controversial to this day. Congress even had to override a veto from President Nixon. Every President from Nixon through Obama has questioned whether the War Powers Resolution is even Constitutional, but it has never been challenged in court. It is widely believed that both Presidents Reagan and Clinton violated the Act; but, again, no one did anything to formally rebuke them.
“Well, I Declare!” – I think the popular notion is that Congress has declared war often. It hasn’t. In fact, the last time Congress declared war was June 5, 1942, when it formally declared war on Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary during World War II. (War had been declared on Japan, Germany and Italy six months earlier.) Entering World War II was an easy and obvious decision; the conflicts since then, not so clear.
“Fast Forward” – So where does this leave President Obama (or, for that matter, any other modern day President?) Well, if he wants to launch an attack, he clearly can. He’s the Commander-in-Chief. But he does so at the political peril of the modern U.S. system. There could always be a backlash, and while President Obama won’t face voters again, other members of his party will. So, President Obama will seek Congressional authorization for a military strike, a decision that now appears to be at least another week away. It will be fascinating to see if he acts anyway (and he can), even if Congress says no! The impact of delaying the decision so long could also have consequences.
“The Standard” - President George H.W. Bush probably set the benchmark for modern warfare when he developed a consensus for waging war against Iraq in 1991 by getting Congressional authorization and support from much of the United Nations and by assembling a broad international military coalition (all the while keeping Israel from jumping in). There are dueling pressures to take rapid, decisive Presidential action or to make a more deliberative (slower), collaborative decision with Congress. I think of gymnast Olga Korbut in the 1972 Olympics, trying to walk the balance beam without falling off. That’s the metaphor for any modern President.
I’d love to hear your opinions. Should the U.S. strike Syria, or not? Click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
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