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Constrain! Restrain!

[ 22 ] September 6, 2013 |

Over at the Diplomat I look into whether adherence to an expansive understanding of the War Powers Resolution could constrain US alliance commitments in East Asia. Short answer: Not very much.

President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional authorization for military action against Syria has renewed discussion over the meaning and impact of the War Powers Resolution. Some commentators,including Peter Spiro, have argued that President Obama’s decision to seek authorization places executiveforeign policy prerogatives in serious jeopardy. Given that part of the purpose of the War Powers Act was to prevent the executive from undertaking conflicts like the Korean War and the Vietnam War, it makes sense to wonder what potential effects the decision to seek authorization for the use of force against Syria might have on U.S. commitments in Asia.

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  1. Derelict says:

    I think the genie is not just out of the bottle on this, it’s left the building and hopped a flight to the coast.

    Unless and until some future Congress decides to resume its Constitutionally mandated role as having the sole authority to declare war, the U.S. is going to continue getting into all kinds of fights great and small at the behest of the executive branch.

    Obama’s request for a Congressional AUMF on Syria is nothing more or less than window dressing at this point. The principle that the President can lob missiles and bombs at whatever country he wants on his own initiative is now so firmly established that many Americans now believe that the President alone can declare wars. The serial failure of Congresses to assert that body’s war-making power over the last 75 years means the genie is going to retire to Malibu, never to return.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Since Obama isn’t actually going ahead with the strikes, it seems to be a bit more than window-dressing.

      The bitching and moaning throughout the media about his decision is amazing. How dare he? He’s shifting the blame!

    • GoDeep says:

      I think the premise is flawed. Congress has done a poor job of keeping us out of unnecessary wars (The Gulf War and the Iraq War being Exhibits 1 & 2). Its better that Americans choose their Presidents wisely, knowing that they’re giving them the ability to go to war anytime they want, than to trust that an overly politicized, highly parochial, and completely feckless Congress will provide an effective check.

      My God Congress spent yesterday talking abt Fast & Furious and the IRS, and we trust that body to exercise good sense?

  2. Scott P. says:

    The serial failure of Congresses to assert that body’s war-making power over the last 75 years means the genie is going to retire to Malibu, never to return.

    It goes back farther than that. So far, in fact, that it doesn’t appear there was ever a time in our nation’s history in which Congress had sole power to authorize military action.

    • SIS says:

      Constitutional norms and the physical realities on the ground matter. Prior to the end of WW2, the US had a large standing Navy, a force of marines, and a small army. This limited the ability of a President to wage military adventures. They could send the marines, but that only worked against small enemies and quick missions. The only large army missions that could be mounted were still here in North America, like the big intervention in Mexico during the revolution and civil war, but at least that could be claimed as self defense given attacks on the Texas border. For any mission that would actually require the use of a large land force, Congress had to be involved to allow for the expansion of the federal Army.

      After WW2 we get a massive, permanent military including a massive permanent Army, plus now you get an air arm. Those changes meant a President now had the kind of massive, imperial standing military that could allow for a President to possibly wage a massive war without ever having gone to Congress. That creates the modern tension in my mind.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Except that none of the executive-only military operations in the post-war period have involved large ground force commitments. They’ve been the same small expeditionary commitments as in the pre-war period, if not smaller.

  3. joe from Lowell says:

    That said, given the amorphous nature of the WPR and the practical unenforceability of its most significant requirements, any decisions about intervening in a war between China and Taiwan or between China and one of the South China Sea disputants would likely treat legal considerations only as an afterthought.

    That strikes me as a not-particularly-expansive understanding of the War Powers Resolution.

  4. Ben says:

    Syria will be America’s Suez.

  5. runsinbackground says:

    Oh man, he quoted The Lord of the Rings, just when I was thinking he had a serious point.

  6. cpinva says:

    the president has now, and has had, since 1789, statutory authority to wage war, without requiring congress’ consent to do so. any treaty we’re a signatory to is the law of the land. if that treaty obligates us to come to the military aid of another party to that treaty, the president is under no legal requirement to ask congress for its consent. clearly, this has zero to do with the Syrian gov’t, or the rebel opposition, since we have no mutual defense treaty with either.

    all that said, I fail to see how pres. Obama asking congress’ consent for military action against the Syrian gov’t somehow estops him from asserting his unitary authority, under the war powers act? that assumes the act in question can even withstand judicial scrutiny.

    • SIS says:

      Given that treaties must be ratified by the Senate, in theory Congress (or part of it) is deeply involved in that bit of Constitutionally approved of war-making also.

    • Murc says:

      any treaty we’re a signatory to is the law of the land. if that treaty obligates us to come to the military aid of another party to that treaty, the president is under no legal requirement to ask congress for its consent.

      The Constitution trumps laws.

  7. wengler says:

    I don’t think ‘Congressional authorization’ is the correct phrase. During his speech it was very clear that Obama still considered the decision to bomb any place in the world to be in the hands of the Executive. Obama is trying to cover his flank after Cameron lost his Parliamentary debate in a vote that he fully expects to win.

    Of course if Obama loses then who knows.

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