US Can't Bomb Syrian Forces Without Congressional Approval
October 11, 2016
Robert Naiman / Common Dreams
According to multiple voices in the DC press, the idea of the US bombing Syrian government forces is "back on the table" this week. In their reporting on this new threat of escalation, the mainstream media failed to acknowledge that, in order to bomb Syrian government forces, President Obama first would need to seek and receive an authorization for the use of military force from Congress.
Sen. Mike Lee: US Can't Bomb
Syrian Forces Without Congressional Approval
Robert Naiman / Common Dreams
(October 07, 2016) -- According to multiple voices in the DC press, the idea of the US bombing Syrian government forces is "back on the table" this week.
On Sunday, under the headline, "Four military options for Obama in Syria," The Hill reported that the administration could be weighing four possible options: "No-fly zone," "Safe zones," "Target Assad's air force," "New weapons for rebels."
On Tuesday, "war-positive" Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin reported under the headline "Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again" that:
US military strikes against the Assad regime will be back on the table Wednesday at the White House, when top national security officials in the Obama administration are set to discuss options for the way forward in Syria . . . A meeting of the Principals Committee, which includes Cabinet-level officials, is scheduled for Wednesday.
A meeting of the National Security Council, which could include the president, could come as early as this weekend. Neither The Hill nor Josh Rogin acknowledged in their reporting that in order to bomb Syrian government forces, President Obama would need to seek and receive an authorization for the use of military force from Congress.
But on Wednesday, Utah Senator Mike Lee reminded Washington that the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution are still good law:
Sen. Mike Lee is warning the White House that a push to increase the US military's involvement in Syria would require congressional approval.
The Utah Republican said reports that the administration is considering using airstrikes to target the Assad regime . . . would represent "a major departure from our current strategy."
"[It] carries potentially cataclysmic consequences which the American people have never debated in Congress," he said in a statement. "If President Obama and his advisors want to increase the involvement of the United States in Syria in any manner -- including attacks against the Assad regime -- they have a constitutional responsibility to ask for a declaration of war from Congress."
[. . . ]
With lawmakers out of Washington until after the November elections, Lee added that if Obama moves "ahead without authorization, then Congress must be called back into session to fulfill its obligation to debate and determine whether our nation should once again go to war."
Now that Senator Lee is speaking out, The Hill acknowledges that other Senators have said that the President needs an authorization for the use of military force from Congress to bomb Syrian government forces:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has repeatedly warned that while he thinks the administration currently has the authority it needs to fight ISIS, going on offense against the Syrian government would be a different conversation.
"If they decided to go against al-Assad, then they would need additional authorities. And we stand ready if that's something they wish to do, to debate that. But thus far, they haven't made that decision," the Foreign Relations chairman told the Military Times late last year.
We've been here before.
In August 2013, during a Congressional recess, 192 Members of the House, most of whom are still serving in Congress, went on the record to say that the President could not bomb Syrian government forces without Congressional approval.
On August 28, 2013, 140 Representatives sent a bipartisan letter led by Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell to President Obama which said:
We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of US military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The same day, New York Congressman Jerry Nadler issued his own statement, which said:
The Constitution requires that, barring an attack on the United States or an imminent threat to the US, any decision to use military force can only be made by Congress -- not by the President. The decision to go to war -- and we should be clear, launching a military strike on another country, justified or not, is an act of war -- is reserved by the Constitution to the American people acting through their elected representatives in Congress.
[. . . ]
The American people deserve to have this decision debated and made in the open, with all the facts and arguments laid out for public review and debate, followed by a Congressional vote. If the President believes that military action against Syria is necessary, he should immediately call Congress back into session and seek the Constitutionally-required authorization.
On August 29, 2013, sixty-one Democrats, led by Barbara Lee, sent a letter to President Obama which said:
Congress has the constitutional power and obligation to approve military force. . . we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any US military engagement to this complex crisis.
As a result of those letters and statements, President Obama agreed to seek Congressional approval before taking military action, which approval he was unable to attain.
The fact that the President could not attain Congressional approval for military action in 2013 was a key reason that the proposed military action did not take place. War-positive voices in the DC press want to erase this history, that's why we must emphasize it.
You can urge your Senators and Representative to insist that Congress debate and vote to approve or reject an authorization for the use of military force before any US military action against the Syrian government here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.
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