There is a wonderful scene unfolding on Capitol Hill. In the past, President Barack Obama has insisted that he alone decides what constitutes a war and when he needs a congressional declaration. It was a claim that was challenged in federal court when I represented members of Congress. Now, however, England has refused to go along with the latest American-led military venture and there is heavy opposition in the public. Obama therefore is now saying that he wants to consult with Congress while his aides insist that he really does not need such consultation and, unless they agree with him, may just ignore them. Welcome to the new Imperil Presidency and what now constitutes checks and balances.
What is interesting is that Obama appears to be looking for an out after he painted himself in a corner by declaring a “red line” over the use of chemical weapons. According to some reports, that was not in the prepared comments for him to read but, once he said it, it became U.S. policy. He was clearly ready to go to war to show that he is not to be mocked but then the English balked at his latest military venture. It appears that he may be willing to blame Congress if there is a vote against the attacks, even though he continues to maintain that he does not need such approval. He is calling for a vote in direct conflict with his position in the Libyan war.
I have spoken to people at the Pentagon who have complained privately that there appears to be no adult supervision at the White House and that there is major opposition to this course in the military. The feeling is that Obama aides are drifting again into a war with wider implications and uncertain ends.
What is left is utter confusion. You have a President who claims unchecked powers who wants to attack another nation. You have an attack that has been steadily downgraded into “limited” and “brief” operations to try to get the world to just let Obama carry out his threat and leave. You have a Congress that it desperately trying to pretend that it is relevant in any respect to this country going to war while not making any substantive decision. This is what comes from departing from the clear language of the Constitution in requiring declarations of war before attacking another country.