With the Obama administration giving every sign of intending to use military force against Syria, the nation is once again faced with the differing opinions about the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The Wikipedia page on that states this at the outset:
. . . is a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. The resolution was adopted in the form of a United States Congress joint resolution; this provides that the President can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by declaration of war by Congress, “statutory authorization,” or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
Now that seems clear, but then there is a long discussion over the legal language used and its ramifications. Presidents since Nixon have argued that the act, which was passed over Nixon’s veto, is unconstitutional, mainly because the Constitution makes the president the “commander in chief” and gives him the responsibility of “defending” the country. And as we all know, “defense” can be interpreted many ways. Nobody disputes Congress’ role in “declaring war”, but in the Executive’s view that leaves short-term military actions the responsibility of the President, and of course we all know how short-term actions can drag on like, well, like the Afghanistan War, now in what, its 11th year?
How one feels about this matter obviously differs depending on where one sits. From the Oval Office, the now-confirmed outrageous violation of internationally-understood rules on weapons of mass destruction demands action. The Navy is on station, loaded for action. The credibility of both the Commander in Chief and the nation are on the line. Assad’s forces, already forewarned, are likely moving assets away from likely targets and preparing backups. What’s a president to do, take decisive action, or refer the matter to a committee of 535 bickering politicians? Well, that’s about what the U.K. did, and despite photos of dead children and writhing victims, the committee over there had a knock-down, drag-out debate and then said “no”.
There’s a lot on the line here, not just for the present situation but for the stability of international relations. Weapons of mass destruction have become almost common. North Korea has primitive nukes and Iran may have them soon. That would make 11 countries that have them. Who else has chemical weapons too? I’m not sure, but if Syria saves itself from the rebels by using them, that will be an important milestone in the annals of warfare. Are biological weapons next?
Obama’s personal legacy might not be the only thing driving his apparent intention to enforce the “red line”. He, like Lincoln before him, may be taking an even longer view, that of humanity’s trajectory. I’m not as sure as I was before that the “punishment” strike is wrong. History’s verdict is usually delayed by years, if not decades. But what we are seeing unfolding is, in my opinion, much more than intervention in a religious civil war, it is an important precedent for the ages. If we do this, and especially if we do it without wide international support, then we will have indeed declared ourselves “the world’s policeman”. Time to fish or cut bait, as they say.
- Obama appears poised for action in Syria (firstread.nbcnews.com)