Last night in a prime-time address from the White House, President Obama seemed warm to Russian plans to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control while effectively postponing the drumbeat for war in Congress. This morning many are rejoicing as it seems the worst has been avoided and the President has conceded to popular opinion. However, as The Atlantic’s Garrett Epps points out, Congress may have already given Obama the green light.
Contained within the resolution passed by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee is a clause that acknowledges the President’s Constitutional authority to use military force based on solely his discretion.
“Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States …”
This clause, combined with a few similar clauses that establish as fact Syria’s chemical weapons programs and their existence as a threat to U.S. national security, creates a mix of language that some experts say are frightening.
I think these provisions together constitute congressional acknowledgement that the President has constitutional authority, independent of the AUMF, to use military force to defend against the acknowledged threat to U.S. national security interests posed by the Syrian acquisition and use of WMD …. Note that this very broad congressional acknowledgment of presidential power does not suggest any geographical limitation.
Another law expert from the University of Ohio agrees that the language is unconstitutional and quite odd. In passing the resolution, Congress has effectively surrendered its
power responsibility to authorize military force.
This “whereas” clause is contrary to the Constitution’s original meaning, contrary to the War Powers Resolution, subversive of Congress’s proper role in war powers decision making, and wholly unnecessary to frame the operational provisions of an AUMF on Syria..
In shifting the burden of authorizing military action onto Obama, the good folks of Congress seem to have quietly approved Syrian intervention while simultaneously freeing themselves of any responsibility that could come back to haunt them in an election cycle.