Obama Has No Authority to Attack Syria

by PAUL FINDLEY

Despite his own recent statements to the contrary, President Barack Obama has no legal authority to assault the government of Syria even as “a warning shot.” Neither the United States Constitution, nor the War Powers Act of 1973 gives him such authority in the absence of an emergency that allows Congress no time to react.

Obama cannot cite the present situation as such an emergency, given his public statement that members of Congress need not act until the completion of their scheduled vacation. He has said that his proposal is “not time sensitive.” If Congress fails to approve a resolution approving acts of war against Syria, he cannot order any military assault into Syria.

On several recent occasions the President and administration officials have mentioned a “sixty day” period during which he has authority to act without approval of Congress. Such authority does not exist. It is a misreading of a provision of the War Powers Act that provides only Congress with oversight constraints on executive actions.

Section 5(b) of the War Powers Act establishes limits of sixty or ninety days on acts of the President in such emergencies. Section 8(d) ordains, “Nothing in this Joint Resolution (1) is intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President or of the provision of existing treaties; or (2) shall be construed as granting any authority to the President with respect to the introduction of United Stated Armed Forces into hostilities or situations wherein involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, which authority he would not have had in the absence of this Joint Resolution.”

It is clear from the debates of the Philadelphia Convention, the first book of Blackstone, and the 69th Federalist, that the framers of the United States Constitution meant to prohibit the President from ordering acts of war without approval of Congress, except to repel sudden attacks or deal with imminent threats against American territory, armed forces, military installations, citizens, diplomats, embassies, or commerce. If the President could commence wars of choice on his own authority, the power of Congress to declare or authorize war would be idle words, and the framers did not intend idle words. The War Powers Act does not expand the options of the President. And if the President defies the prerogative of Congress, he can be impeached.

In 1848, Abraham Lincoln, while serving as a member of Congress from Illinois, upbraided President James K. Polk for initiating a war with Mexico. Believing Polk violated constitutional provisions against war making without authorization from Congress, Lincoln explained his opposition in a letter to his former law partner, Billy Herndon, in Springfield, Illinois: “Allow a President to invade a neighboring country anytime he deems it necessary . . . and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to this power in this respect . . . This [power] our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should have the power to bring that oppression on us.”

Timely words!

Paul Findley represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years. He is the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront the Israel Lobby.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”