During President Obama’s first term, I represented members of Congress in challenging Obama’s unilateral intervention into the Libyan civil war without authorization of Congress. Our case was dismissed on standing grounds and, once again, an undeclared act of war went by without any opportunity of judicial review. Now, Obama is reportedly debating whether to intervene in yet another civil war — undeterred by the now superfluous constitutional limits on his war-making authority. Israel has also publicly stated that it is considering a preemptive strike on Syria and reserves the right to make such an attack if it feels threatened by events in that civil war. [Update: I discussed this issue as part of my column on the imperial presidency this morning on C-Span]
President Barack Obama said he has been struggling with the decision whether to enter into another war as the 22-month civil war in Syria drags on. Here is what he considers to be the operative question:
“In a situation like Syria, I have to ask: can we make a difference in that situation?”
That is a bit different from the question that the Framers wanted him to ask: “Do I have authority from Congress to engage in a war?” That question is now just a quaint concern for a president who has acquired unprecedented unchecked powers. Once again, the Democrats are silent because it is Obama not Bush who is speaking of war. It is the type of hypocrisy that is not just laughable. It is lethal.
You will notice however that, during all of this public discussion of whether Obama will intervene in yet another war, there is not a peep of protest from Congress that it is supposed to have the final say on whether we go to war. Democrats again, even on war powers, are conspicuously silent — preferring to support Obama as a person than the Constitution on principle.
Of course, now that war is a unilateral power, we will not have an opportunity to debate our participation in yet another war. There will be no debate over the continued loss of American lives in foreign wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be no debate over our continued spending billions on wars that we desperately need to support basic social programs at home. This is precisely why the Framers wanted to force public votes. While polls show the American people have long opposed our continued expenditure of lives and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama and Congress have continued our involvement. Indeed, our slow withdrawal is due not to our leaders seeking to draw down but increasingly hostile relationships with our “allies” who want us out of their respective countries. The disconnect with the American public is alarming. We have taken a balanced and well-reasoned system and turned it on its head. The result is precisely what the Framers anticipated: continued foreign wars carried out on a unilateral basis.