Home Opinion Opinion: Obama obligated to seek congressional permission for military action?

Opinion: Obama obligated to seek congressional permission for military action?

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On Saturday, President Barack Obama seemed to solidify his position of straightforward action in Syria.

But does Obama have the power to call directly for military strikes against the Bashar Al-Assad regime? The Constitution vests in Congress the power to declare war. But does this mean that Congress must consent to military strikes? Obama was adamant in how he expressed the need for action, and stated the following:

“But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.”

However, Obama seems to have backed down a bit, having sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner. As CNN’s Catherine Shoichet put it, “The proposed legislation from Obama asks Congress to approve the use of military force ‘to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.’”

Americans often see their nation as a beacon and a shining example of democracy that should help out those who are weak and weary. The nation has intervened on behalf of these countries, or for our own vested self-interests, many times.

As John Yoo, an attorney, political commentator and published author,  makes note of in an article for Fox News, “We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and World Wars I and II.” The U.S. may have gone to war many times in people’s minds, but most of these situations have not been formal acts of war. And in most of these situations, Congress has been consulted and has either played the main role, or a pivotal one, in deciding military action. This needs to continue. Regardless of whether this is a formal act of war, or a resolution as in Iraq’s case, Obama really needs to consult Congress a great deal more before organizing missile strikes on Syrian government forces.

It is hard not to be weary coming into another conflict, especially considering the recent actions of the U.S. government abroad. Obama called for missile strikes in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, and did not seek congressional approval then. Obama now seeks to do something similar once again, citing human rights abuses and the United States’ responsibility to respond.

America still finds itself embroiled in Iraq, partially because clear-cut goals for the war were not established in the beginning of the conflict. A similar situation might be the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, as an example of times when the nation has gone into dangerous situations without clear-cut goals. Congress must be consulted immediately and plans must be drawn up if the U.S. is to enter into the conflict to fight against the pro-Syrian forces.

It does seem to be common knowledge that chemical weapons were used. Syrian ally Iran even acknowledged the use of chemical weapons in Syria. A delegation from the U.N. was allowed to collect evidence of potential chemical weapons residue and check the effects on people of possible sarin residue.

Syrian officials continue to blame rebel fighters for staging the attacks but conventional wisdom seems to indicate a crackdown by pro-government forces. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that samples acquired even before the U.N. delegation were positive for sarin residue. The United Nations has put out an estimate of over 100,000 deaths occurring in what has become a civil war. Some estimates have guessed there to be near 40,000 civilian fatalities, though it’s a possibility that anti-government forces are reporting some deaths as civilian to help their cause. Even knowing all this, what seems smart about launching immediate strikes without creating clear-cut strategies and goals for the United States’ actions?

As the anti-government Syrian Nation Coalition waits on congressional approval,  Samir Nashar, president of the Secretariat General of the Damascus Declaration alliance and its representative in the Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council, expressed his disappointment in a statement: “We can’t understand how you can promise to help those who are being slaughtered every day in the hundreds, giving them false hope, then change your mind and say let’s wait and see.”

Neoconservatives and empathetic liberals are beating the war drum under the guise of protecting Israel from potentially threatening neighbors like and Russia and China, who have said they would respond to U.S. strikes against Syria. But it is entirely necessary to exhaust our diplomatic opportunities with Syria as well as nations proposing to respond to U.S. action. Obama may have decided that this is the necessary course of action, but there needs to be more of a debate as he seems to have conceded a congressional discussion before outright missile strikes.

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  1. Lavada

    September 25, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    Superb! It kept my interest in reading and I enjoyed it.


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