Obama Has No Authority to Attack Syria


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.

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: An Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving