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Not a Step in the Right Direction


In response to heavy public opposition to a unilateral executive war against Syria (yes, limited strikes on another country are certainly a “war in the legal sense), the Obama administration has given the appearance of a tip of the hat to Constitutional procedure by “seeking approval” from Congress.

I know quite a few people who, while still rightly opposed to intervention in Syria from a moral standpoint, have referred to this as “at least going in the right direction.”

I don’t.

In fact, beyond a temporary delay before the imperial president’s next foreign crime, this changes nothing. It’s a band-aid, at best.

Here’s three reasons why.

1. Dick, is that you?

The rhetoric coming from the “peace candidate” would have fit quite nicely anywhere in the Bush war years. When Obama says he doesn’t actually need permission from Congress to wage war against another country, and that he “always reserves the right and responsibility to act,” it may-well have been the words of Dick Cheney.

John Kerry, the reformed anti-war activist, might as well be Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz, or any of the other criminals of those unfortunate days.

FACT: These people don’t have principles or sound morals. They have power. And they want to use it. Asking for permission to declare war while claiming it’s not needed doesn’t give me warm fuzzies, it makes me angry.

You didn’t get a “Peace President.” You’ve been had.

2. In Any Case

This so-called constitutional process proposed by the Obama administration is wildly unconstitutional, at best. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t understand the constitutional underpinnings of congressional and executive war powers, so it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Here’s the short version.

The Constitution delegates the power to “declare war” to Congress. The President, then, has the power to wage the war once declared by Congress. Just because Congress “authorizes” something, does not mean it has fulfilled this requirement.

Usually, it’s just a sham.

In October, 2002, that’s exactly what happened. Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force Against Iraq. While it sure is nice that those politicians wanted us to think they were doing their job, making sure it was the representatives of the People making the determination whether or not the country would be engaged in war, they did nothing of the sort.

The important language from that AUMF is:

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to:

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq

No. That’s not constitutional. Not even close.

Congress didn’t declare war. They told George Bush, “You make the call. Let us know what you decide.”

That flies in the face of what James Madison had to say:

“The executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war”

In ANY case.

Yeah, that includes the “case” where congress might say to the President, “you decide,” as happened in 2002.

Fast forward to today, and Barack Obama wants the same power that George Bush was handed. From the text of the president’s proposed AUMF for Syria:

(a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to —

(1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

(2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.

You see that? It’s the exact same thing. This would authorize the President to make the actual determination as to whether or not diplomacy or war will be what this country pursues.

James Madison said the executive doesn’t have that right – in any case.

I think I’m pretty safe siding with the “Father of the Constitution” over Bush and Obama on war powers.

3. Bad vs Bad

The so-called “more limited” AUMF proposed in the Senate is unconstitutional garbage as well.

The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to: (1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria; (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons; and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.

If you believe that handing the president the same power to make the final determination over war is somehow a better situation, I’ve got some land on Saturn to sell you.

Just One Person?

There’s good reason to want a system where just one person would never have the power to determine if an entire country will go to war. To determine if you’ll have to pay for their killing. To determine, possibly, if you or your children may have to fight and die for their cause.

The Founders knew this because they experienced it.

You and I should know this too, because you and I are experiencing it first hand.

No one in the world wages more war than the United States of America. And it’s been like that for a long time.

On the one hand, I would argue that this “shoot first” mentality is not just morally wrong, it’s a complete failure. Well, unless of course success is measured by the amount of money they need to keep taking from you to hand over to the war machine.

On the other hand, this just reaffirms the fact that neither Congress nor the President should be trusted no matter who is in power.

These people will never stop the power and cash cow on their own. They need to be resisted.

I, for one, am ready to stand against them. Are you with me?

Michael Boldin is the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center.  He welcomes your email at  

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