In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a war that was never actually declared by Congress, the United States Congress passed a law known as the War Powers Act to prevent repeats in the future. Virtually every US President since, both Republican and Democrat, has bucked the law, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief. Regardless of presidential opinion regarding the War Powers Act, the US Constitution is absolutely clear on the checks placed upon presidential authority with regard to war. The Congress, alone, has the power to declare war, thus presidents cannot make declarations of war alone or as a matter of personal opinion. As a result of this constitutional check, presidents have routinely engaged in military operations without calling them declared wars, as to get around the constitutional requirement for congressional authorization. This tendency by presidents is the reason why the War Powers Act was passed in the first place.
The greatest example of a presidentially declared war, without really calling it a war, is Vietnam. For over a decade, the United States military undertook military operations in Vietnam without Congress ever having authorized the use of force or having declared war on North Vietnam. This was, and remains, an affront to the constitutional separation of powers with regard to war-making that should be a hallmark characteristic of a republic. In a republic, presidents and generals don’t get to go to war without the consent of the people’s representatives. Nevertheless, this is exactly what has happened repeatedly over the past several decades. Some Presidents, however, have complied with Congress’s clarification of the constitutional separation of powers under the War Powers Act, and have sought congressional support. Presidents like George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, have sought Congressional authorization for the use of force prior to committing US troops to foreign theaters of war.
President Barack Obama seemed poised to engage the United States in Syria without congressional consent, until the public outcry became too great. The War Powers Act allows a president to use military force in response to “urgent national security threats” for up to sixty days without congressional consent. This upholds the president’s power to repel genuine national security threats without going through a lengthy debate, but also prevents the president from pulling another Vietnam and fighting a war that we don’t really call a war. President Obama’s administration, initially, claimed that the President would be well within his authority under the War Powers Act to strike Syria without congressional consent. They claimed that this is because Syria is an imminent threat to US national security, and that the operation would last less than sixty days. After members of his own party started pitching a fit, however, and the Administration began calling for a lengthier campaign, the President quickly changed his tune.
Now, President Obama is doing the right thing in going to Congress for authorization to act, but I still would argue that engagement in Syria is not in America’s national security interest. I visited the Israeli-Syrian Border back in April on an AIPAC visit to our greatest ally in the world. Syria is a dangerous country, which is involved in a deep civil war between two jihadist factions. The President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, is a puppet of Iran, and he shares the Iranian regime’s hatred of the United States and Israel. On the other hand, the rebels who are seeking his ouster are equally fanatical; they are largely allegiant to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that present a threat to the United States and Israel as well. In light of this ongoing civil war between two factions of fanatics who hate America, why would we engage the US military to aide either side?
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry claim that it’s because Assad has used chemical weapons against the rebel forces, thus he must be punished. At the same time, however, the Administration claims that they have no interest in taking sides in a civil war in Syria. I would humbly submit that the Administration cannot do both; punishing Assad will weaken his military capacity, thus ensuring that America is picking sides, which will serve to aide Al-Qaeda in its efforts to take over Syria completely. All the while, the reality remains that whoever controls Syria has their hands on one of the largest, if not the largest, stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world, which the Administration has no plan to destroy or neutralize.
This entire strategy is reckless and misguided. A civil war in Syria, in itself, is not a direct and imminent threat to America, but the presence of a chemical weapons stockpile complicates the situation.
Thus, my position is that members of Congress should vote no on this worthless authorization of force resolution, which will result in the United States engaging in a civil war in Syria, with no clear objectives, no clear exit strategy, and no clear benefit to national security. All the while, the real threat, the chemical weapons themselves, are left in Syria in the hands of whichever group of fanatics wins the war.
America should be smarter than this. We should reject misguided plans to inject our brave men and women into a civil war in Syria that will have no positive outcome for America or America’s national security interests. Instead, we should stay out of this civil war, and only act with Special Forces, CIA, and other assets to locate and destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles that threaten the United States and Israel if they are used by either group of terrorists now fighting for control of Syria.
We shouldn’t go into a war in Syria to protect the President’s personal reputation after he drew an arbitrary red line regarding an internal struggle between two camps of anti-American fanatics. Protect America’s national security interests? Yes. Go to war to uphold the President’s personal credibility? No.