Before President Obama announced that he would in fact be requesting Congressional authorization for military action in Syria, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren made a succinct case for deliberation on KPCC, joining many of her colleagues actively seeking to do their jobs (LISTEN here). Lofgren, a Democrat, even posted the text of the War Powers Resolution on her website.
David Cole, who also clears up arguments about the WPR’s putative loopholes, has more:
It is possible that the military action now being contemplated by the White House might qualify as “humanitarian intervention,” on the ground that it is designed to forestall further atrocities in Syria. Whether such a response in the absence of UN Security Council approval is permissible under international law is a matter of debate, although most legal scholars would argue that Security Council approval is required. But again, under our Constitution, there is no exception to the requirement of Congressional approval for humanitarian interventions. Any hostile use of military force in another sovereign’s territory without its consent is an act of war, and requires Congress’s assent.
If President Obama ignores this requirement, he won’t be the first. President Clinton ignored it when he gave NATO authorization to use US forces to bomb Kosovo. President Reagan did so when he supported the contras in Nicaragua’s civil war, and when he sent troops to Grenada. President Truman did so in Korea, which he called a “police action,” fooling no one. In fact, the reason Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution was that presidents had too often seized the advantage by unilaterally introducing troops, and only then, if at all, coming to Congress for authorization after the fact, when Congress had no real choice but to support the president.
The decision to intervene in Syria is, by all accounts, a difficult one. It is far from clear that it will do any good, and there is substantial risk that it will do harm. Polls show many Americans are against intervention. Iran has threatened to respond by attacking Israel. Assad may well have concluded that drawing in US forces will make him more popular, not less so, given attitudes toward the US in his country and the region. And it’s not clear that the forces currently fighting Assad would offer a less violent future for Syria if he is removed. President Obama, recognizing the risk of going it alone, has dispatched his emissaries to drum up support around the globe. But in view of the many risks involved, he would do well to seek support from Congress as well. That’s the red line the Framers drew, and the president should respect it.
Mother Jones helpfully breaks down where segments of Congress, including Republican non-interventionists and Democratic “doves” like Lofgren, stand on the use of force in Syria. The Washington Post is keeping track of vote counts here.