Congress' War Powers

If Congress votes against a strike on Syria, President Obama has to back down.

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"We should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said of the decision to intervene in Syria.

Now that President Obama has asked Congress for authorization to attack Syria, the question is whether the president has the constitutional authority to attack Syria if the legislative branch turns him down.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will probably deliver for the president in the upper chamber with the support of GOP Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. But while President Obama is putting on a full court press, the outcome of the vote in the House is uncertain.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans in the House came close to ending funding for domestic spying. This coalition with a few more votes could upset the president's applecart. Many House Democrats oppose the attack on Syria on principle, but House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is pushing caucus liberals to back the president.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., support the authorization, but many Republicans in the tea party caucus are hostile. Representative Peter King, R-N.Y., criticized the president for asking Congress for the authorization, saying the president abdicated his constitutional power as commander in chief of the armed forces to act unilaterally. Representative Scott Rigell, R-Va., opposes the authorization and believes the Constitution prohibits the president from attacking Syria if Congress fails to sanction it.

It has become way too easy for the president to mount attacks on other countries. Section 1, Article 8 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to declare war. Despite this legal restriction on the president, chief executives have started overseas military adventures in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Panama and Grenada since Congress last declared war in 1941.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were military, personal and political disasters that cost the U.S. the lives of thousands of brave young Americans, billions of taxpayer dollars and international respect and authority. Both wars were based on fabricated incidents, the mythical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and false reports of attacks by North Vietnamese patrol boats on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. If Congress had done its constitutional due diligence and required declaration of wars, we might have avoided the dreadful consequences of both conflicts.

The founding fathers had it right. They knew that war was a calamity, so they wanted to make sure that it was difficult for the U.S. to start one. So the founders gave Congress the authority to declare war and the power for the commander in chief to fight it. If Congress turns the president down, the legislative branch is just doing its job and the only way for President Obama to do his is to stand down.

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