Protect the legacy
I was sorry to see the Aug. 30 editorial about possible military involvement in Syria did not mention Congress, no less discuss whether President Obama must or should seek Congress’ authorization for the use of military force in Syria.
Under the Constitution most war powers are conferred on Congress, while the president is the commander-in-chief when military force is used. But at least since the Korean War presidents have initiated the use of force without congressional authorization on numerous occasions. After the Vietnam War in 1973 Congress adopted the War Powers Resolution (WPR) over President Nixon’s veto, seeking to define the war power roles of the Congress and the Chief Executive. No president since then has acknowledged that the WPR is controlling, nor are the federal courts willing to wade into what they consider to be “political questions.”
Despite the lack of a national consensus on the allocation of war powers and despite a history that leaves the law unsettled, the president should nevertheless ask Congress to consent before he initiates any attack in Syria. The Mideast is a tinderbox, and the use of military force may well turn out to be as serious as it was in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — both instances in which President Bush obtained from Congress a prior Authorization for Use of Force (AUMF).
It may be argued that AUMFs don’t meet constitutional muster, but in the present context where principle and practicality trump scholarship, seeking an AUMF before taking action is crucial. Americans have every right to know where their congressional members stand on military action in Syria. Briefing congressional leaders, which apparently has been done, falls far short of this goal.
And seeking an AUMF at least reflects the Constitution’s mandate that war powers are to be shared between the White House and Capitol Hill and are not the sole preserve of either branch — a lesson that President Obama should leave as part of his legacy.
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