September 8, 2013

Obama’s Extra-Constitutional Abdication

Deliberately tying his own hands, and possibly those of future presidents. 

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This column went up at PJ Media late Thursday evening, and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Saturday morning.

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President Barack Obama’s sudden decision – after a 45-minute Friday walk on the White House grounds – to go to Congress for authorization to intervene in Syria is far more than a simple, predictable act of accountability avoidance. Regardless of whether he gets the support to which he and Secretary of State John Kerry apparently feel entitled (amid serious doubts over who has really deployed chemical weapons in that country), Obama’s move has potentially far-reaching negative consequences. Congress must do all it can to avoid them.

The first hint that there is more to this than Obama’s typical politically calculated reluctance to take responsibility for his actions came from long-time left-wing writer Walter Shapiro. Shapiro called Obama’s decision “the most important presidential act on the Constitution and war-making powers since Harry Truman decided to sidestep Congress and not seek its backing to launch the Korean war.” Hardened leftists — who can be counted on to see America as the bad guy in every conflict which legitimately involves American interests, but who wish to shame us into military action when they are not — must be thrilled.

The second clue came during Chris Wallace’s Sunday morning interview of Kerry. The secretary of State and 2004 presidential candidate — who, by the way, has frequently boasted of his service in Vietnam and promoted fabricated stories of atrocities committed there by U.S. troops — was on a mission to declare Obama’s decision to go to Congress “courageous.”

As Kerry attempted an about-face from the sense of urgency he had passionately advocated for just days earlier, Wallace reminded him that the urgency certainly still exists for innocent Syrian civilians and refugees. He then indirectly and perhaps inadvertently made the key bipartisan constitutional point:

Ronald Reagan did not think he needed congressional approval to go after Qaddafi in Libya. Bill Clinton did not think he needed approval to go after Kosovo or to go after al-Qaeda. This president seems to think … he needs political cover.

There are quite a few other examples Wallace could have cited, such as Reagan’s 1983 decision to invade Grenada and George H.W. Bush’s 1989 decision to send troops into Panama to depose Manuel Noriega. In neither of these cases, nor in the ones Wallace cited above, did our nation’s president consider formal congressional authorization a requirement (in the case of Kosovo — according to Kerry — Clinton tried and failed, but went ahead anyway).

Why? Because the president is the nation’s commander-in-chief. Yet Obama apparently believes now — per Kerry’s words to Wallace — that showing “the best face of our democracy” and “a unity of purpose” is more important than timely action.

If he succeeds in getting the congressional authorization he claims he doesn’t need, that maneuver will set the precedent-setting expectation that a president must seek congressional blessing for all military actions. Obama, whether he means it or not, claims this will be quite a small one: he has been selling the idea of a few strategically targeted cruise missiles “striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal,” and that this will “probably last no more than two days.” (This is, of course, a reversal of the administration’s Congress-ignoring, law-defying position on Libya. But Libya occurred when Obama had to demonstrate interest in being an accountable commander-in-chief during a reelection campaign. He doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.)

Leftists hope that “should turn to Congress every time” becomes “must turn to Congress every time.” If that occurs, the U.S. will, by virtue of the delays and indecisiveness congressional authorization will inevitably involve, become a much less important force for worldside stability and security. With this precedent set, civilization’s enemies know that they have another three-and-one-half years during which any action of theirs — short of a large-scale direct attack on U.S. interests — will be met by delay, followed by … perhaps nothing. They also know that the next president will have to break that tradition, likely against the wishes of the media.

At least a few people understand what’s going on here. New York Congressman Peter King got it exactly right on Saturdaywhen he said: ”President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents.”

House Speaker John Boehner has already indicated support for a military response. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Boehner and Congress need to make clear in their resolution’s language that what they are providing is only a sense of congressional sentiment and not a formal authorization for use of force.

The president can then take that sense of Congress — which could be for or against, as it really won’t matter — and weigh it in his decision. But it still must be his decision as commander-in-chief. Barack Obama needs to put on his big-boy pants and make it.

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9 Comments

  1. The President does NOT have the Constitutional authority to unilaterally start a war.
    That authority is granted to Congress alone in Article I, which also grants to Congress all authority over the nations armed forces. (see Section 8).
    Article II grants the President the authority to conduct wars, as CinC, that the Congress authorizes. The authority to unilaterally take the country to war is conspicuous by its absence. The Commander in Chief designation applies only during wartime.
    Congress has long abdicated its warmaking authority and has passed legislation authorizing the President to assume the CinC role during emergencies such as invasion or attack where there is no time to request authorization before taking action.
    In the abdication of its responsibilities Congress has allowed the President to get away with attacking other countries but that’s not the same as having Constitutional authority to do so.

    Comment by SteveP — September 8, 2013 @ 9:02 am

  2. #1, thx for the comment.

    Did Reagan have authority to send troops in to Grenada? I believe so, and so did he. IMO and his it wasn’t a war.

    Did Bush 41 have authority to send troops in to Panama? I believe so, and so did he. IMO and his it wasn’t a war.

    One question in Syria is whether what they want to do is a “war.” The column was written on the premise that it wouldn’t be. If that premise is wrong, then things change. With Obama and Kerry, who knows?

    Comment by Tom — September 8, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  3. Conducting a military attack on another country is war – no matter how you rationalize it. It doesn’t matter if it’s with bombers, missiles, drones, or invasion (“boots on the ground”); if it’s limited strikes to save a president’s credibility or with a goal of destroying a government, it’s still war.
    It can be argued that Reagan, Bush, etc had authority to attack other countries but it was Congressional authority, mainly through spineless abdication of its responsibility, not Constitutional authority.

    Comment by SteveP — September 8, 2013 @ 10:00 am

  4. #1 and #2, both of you missed an important point here, the POTUS as CIC has the duty to protect the nation from imminent threat and so must have the leeway to act in a timely manner to specific circumstances on the ground. HOWEVER, as the Founding Fathers made this exception for the CIC to act militarily until Congress convened to debate the matter and appropriate the funds. The Founding Fathers “presumed” the CIC would be a rational person not being rash in his statements or person in the conduct of safety he/she was charged. These were practical matters in a day when it took weeks to get Congress adjourned due to travel considerations.

    Obama as POTUS has the power to respond to imminent threats, however, we know that any outcome of responding militarily may ultimately embroil the nation in a war NOT of Congress’s choosing. That is the rub here with the flexibility the Founding Fathers gave the POTUS.

    It should be clear to all that last month’s (August) tragic deaths of 1400 people via the use of chemical weapons does not pose an imminent threat to the nation. Obama, does not have the authority to attack Syria because he all but admitted the situation is NOT imminent, never mind being a DIRECT threat to the US. Hence, as POTUS he must go to Congress for authorization to engage in military action BECAUSE such action in any reasonable conventional sense is an ACT OF WAR. One country does not fire missiles at another country and not be considered an act of war.

    Libya was an act of war by Obama and Congress should have impeached him on the spot because neither was there a threat to the US and it certainly wasn’t imminent. But because of Harry Reid as leader of the Senate would not allow such an impeachment trial, therefore no trial would have ever occurred thus making Obama’s illegal action in Libya condoned.

    For this reason alone the American People should have never re-elected Obama for displaying such poor and rash judgment. Alas, Romney chose not to make it an issue in the campaign among the other issues he so foolishly ignored to not use.

    Returning to the real issue here is the fact that now Obama is seeking to use Congress as a way out from being blamed for shooting off his mouth. It is a foolish attempt at face saving act to blame Congress for not “allowing” him to respond to his own (now denied) red line he drew. This can be played in a couple of ways by Congress. The House could simply envoke the Hassert Rule and not bring it to a vote thus deny any action at all even though the Senate may vote for an authorization. The House could vote it down and again nullifies any Senate vote for authorization. The US as a nation thus saves face and gains praise for showing restraint but Obama gets egg on his face for being rash.

    OR the House and Senate votes to authorize under the rubic it would make the US look feeble to it’s enemies by not authorizing and thus compound by affirming Obama’s mistake to give him the latitude of acting. The salvaging of egos is a poor way of making and executing national policy. Neither is wearing one’s conscience on their sleeve, I call it faux moralizing by the self righteous.

    I would remind all that any overt military action against Syria will pull in Iran and thus play to their doomsday cult leaders and may actually start a nuclear war. Do not make the mistake of judging the motives and rationalizations of a religious cult through the prism of your worldview. The Shiites and Alawites are considered a cult in Islam. Just like at Waco, TX cult leaders don’t care about the followers, they only care about their own egos. They want to be known and as far as they are concerned being infamous achieves the same result as being famous, to be etched into the world consciousness for eternity. We are not dealing with rational people as you would consider rational. Their delusion about the return of the Mahdi and their part in it they believe they must play in bringing him back has led them to making nuclear bombs. An attack on Syria may just well signal to them the “ordained” timing of a nuclear response to create world wide chaos and it would do exactly that. Yes, there is a method to their madness. We would do well not to play into their hands.

    If you want to punish Assad and Iran, you must play to their worst fears, that of a Sunni jihad driving them out of Syria. Leave them be and let Allah sort it out. Let the Sunnis stamp out the cult of the Mahdi once and for all and so the radical fires of Islam will be burnt out on those who wished it upon the world, a poetically just outcome. In fact, this is what is playing out right now in Iraq. Allow the Sunni cannon fodder burn themselves out on the Shiites
    and not us. I promise you, while you may decry all the deaths over there it will not come to you over here IF you will not interfere. On the other hand no less death, destruction and misery will occur here if you interfere to allow the metastization of radical Islam to spread. Both radical Sunni and Shiite ideologies are dangerous and destructive, let them kill each other and not the rest of us.

    If you really must interfere in Syria to show other dictators around the world that using chemical weapons will get them more than they bargained for then supply the Kurds with Stinger missiles to create a de facto no fly zone over Syria. If you really want to punish Iran and Syria, promise the Kurds you will support and recognize an independent sovereign state of Kurdistan.

    Comment by dscott — September 8, 2013 @ 11:00 am

  5. “Conducting a military attack on another country is war” — well, does that include every clandestine operation which is anticipated to lead to use of weapons? Did Congress ever specifically authorize the hunt for Bin Laden?

    There’s a line between “war” and “not war,” and we definitely disagree on where it is.

    Comment by Tom — September 8, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  6. #5, I suggest the line between overt and covert warfare is drawn by our experience with the Cold War between the West and Communist countries. Covert military actions are generally not acts of war but unofficial acts of force out of the public eye that gives the other side the political cover to not declare war. Think of it as a shoving match between individuals who elect based on their own calculations not to go all the way to a slug fest. Ultimately, war is defined by those who respond to a perceived provocation making the acknowledgment a political matter. (See the Art of War by Sun Tzu)

    In the case of Syria and Iran, based on their doomsday cult religion and their preparations for worldwide chaos as dictated by their religion, any overt military strike will be responded to as an act of war.

    And yes, Congress did authorize the Hunt for Bin Laden when it officially declared the war on terror starting with the Patriot Act. A state of War exists between al Qaeda and the US government as declared by Congress.

    Comment by dscott — September 9, 2013 @ 7:28 am

  7. Report: Iran, Hezbollah And Syria Planning Possible Retaliatory Strikes If U.S. Attacks Syria…

    http://weaselzippers.us/2013/09/08/report-iran-hezbollah-and-syria-planning-possible-retaliatory-strikes-if-u-s-attacks-syria/

    Iran and Hezbollah would use all of their power to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime if they felt that it was in danger of falling; should this not be the case, the diplomat said that Iran and Hezbollah are unlikely to get involved.

    In other words an attack by the US to punish Assad with the potential to change the momentum of the civil war (as demanded by McCain) will lead to a wider conflict. This is why covert NOT overt military action is required, Obama needs to shut his mouth and get the chip off his shoulder. But then based on his track record he would be going contrary to his character. IF Obama were a real leader like George W Bush, he would take the public hit for his mistake and then quietly ramp up the covert actions to undermine Assad and Iran. But Obama is no W, IF he were, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place because Iran would be free right now because W would have supported the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran and he would have jumped at the chance of taking down Assad covertly as well.

    Comment by dscott — September 9, 2013 @ 8:04 am

  8. The nail in the coffin of war authorization:

    Congress Members Who Have Seen Classified Evidence About Syria Say It Fails to Prove Anything

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/09/classified-intelligence-doesnt-prove-anything.html

    Once we leave, we are not permitted to discuss the classified summary with the public, the media, our constituents or even other members. Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided.

    And this is just the classified summary. It is my understanding that the House Intelligence Committee made a formal request for the underlying intelligence reports several days ago. I haven’t heard an answer yet. And frankly, I don’t expect one.

    ***

    By refusing to disclose the underlying data even to members of Congress, the administration is making it impossible for anyone to judge, independently, whether that statement is correct.

    Based on this report we see that there is no hard evidence of the Syrian government as being the actual perp in the chemical attack. The fact that even Congressional leaders with clearance to see secret information are only allowed to see summaries points to a slight of hand being perpetrated by the Obama Administration. Why be coy about the facts IF they are so compelling to risk war?

    Which leads me to believe there are ulterior motivations completely unrelated to any chemical attack in Syria. Do we have a wag the dog situation here? What would the reason to distract the public but also the world? What is it the Obama people are attempting to hide that they would risk everything? Or are they so stupid that they don’t see any risk at all?

    I’m going to suggest a possible reason:

    http://www.eia.gov/oog/info/twip/twip.asp

    What is Driving the Declining U.S. Gasoline Consumption?

    The Labor Day holiday marked the end of the peak driving season, a good occasion to review the most recent data on gasoline consumption, which accounts for almost 10% of global liquid fuels consumption. For the first half of 2013, EIA data show gasoline consumption lower than the comparable 2012 period by 50,000 barrels per day (bbl/d), or 0.6%, lower than in the comparable 2012 period (Figure 1).

    What the EIA speculates as increased energy efficiency in the face of so called a growing GDP is actually an economic recession masked by government propaganda exposing faulty GDP #s.

    Look at the gasoline consumption for the last week of August this year and past years: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=WGFUPUS2&f=W

    Obama desperately needs a distraction from his domestic policy failures. What better way to explain away dropping gasoline demand and a crappy economy than high oil prices via turmoil in the M.E.? What better way to justify “Green Cronyism” to funnel government money to your supporters? What better way to justify a 15% ethanol blend standard for gasoline than constrained oil supplies? What better way to blameshift the rising prices of food from the Fed’s inflationary money printing to the 50% increased ethanol standard and rising oil prices? What better way is there to proclaim an economic emergency to set aside the government’s budget requirement and thus dispense with the Debt Limit permanently? The damage is done. What difference does it make?

    Comment by dscott — September 9, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  9. [...] take last week (BizzyBlog mirror) on why Obama decided to go to Congress for an unnecessary authorization vote fits that template. [...]

    Pingback by BizzyBlog — September 9, 2013 @ 10:36 am

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