Rhode Island) – With everyone
talking about possible military action in Syria, I thought it might be
interesting to review some of the issues at stake. Every time we get into a
situation like this, there is a lot of confusion about what any President can
and cannot do. As for what the President should or should not do? Well, I'll
leave it up to you to share your opinions.
"Hail to the Chief" – According to Article II of the
Constitution: "The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy
of the United States, and of
the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States."
That's it. It's not a list of "cans" and "cant's," but rather a statement that
he's supposed to be the boss.
"Now Wait a Minute" – On the other hand, Article I of the Constitution
grants some defense responsibilities to Congress, including the power: "To
declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning
Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but
no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two
Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To
make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." So,
a check and checkmate, from the Founding Fathers!
"So Who's the Boss?" – This is an age old conflict that has cropped up
often, including wars (undeclared) and military actions in Korea, Vietnam,
Iraq I, Bosnia, Afghanistan,
Iraq II, and now Syria.
The Constitution is clearly in conflict, and at the same time the Constitution
seems to be saying it's also a shared responsibility. This has been a
continuing American dilemma, but at its most intense over the past 60 years.
"The Fix is In?" - In 1973 - frustrated by the length of the Vietnam War -
Congress passed the War Powers Act to try to curb a President conducting
military action, without Congressional approval. The law requires a President
to notify Congress 48 hours in advance of military action, and troops can only
operate for 60 days (plus a 30 day withdrawal period), unless Congress authorizes
more time and funding. The Act is controversial to this day. Congress even had to
override a veto from President Nixon. Every President from Nixon through Obama
has questioned whether the War Powers Resolution is even Constitutional, but it
has never been challenged in court. It is widely believed that both Presidents
Reagan and Clinton violated the Act, but again, no one did anything to formally
"Well, I Declare!" – I think the popular notion is that Congress has
declared war often. It hasn't. In fact the last time Congress declared war was
June 5, 1942, when it formally declared war on Romania,
Bulgaria and Hungary during World War II (war was declared on
Japan, Germany and Italy six months earlier). World
War II was an easy and obvious decision; the conflicts since then, not so much.
"Fast Forward" – So where does this leave President Obama (or for that
matter any other modern day President?) Well, if he wants to launch an attack,
he clearly can. He's the Commander-in-Chief. But he does so at the political peril
of the modern U.S.
system. There could always be a backlash, and while the President won't face
voters again, member of his party will. So, President Obama will seek
Congressional authorization for a military strike, a decision that now looks at
least another week away. It will be fascinating to see if he acts anyway (and
he can), even if Congress says no! The impact of delaying the decision so long
could also have consequences.
"The Standard" - President George H.W. Bush probably set the benchmark for modem
warfare when he developed a consensus for waging war against Iraq in 1991 by
getting Congressional authorization; support from much of the United Nations;
and by assembling a broad international military coalition (all the while
keeping Israel from jumping in). There are dueling pressures to take rapid,
decisive Presidential action; and, to make a more deliberative (slower),
collaborative decision with Congress. I think of gymnast Olga Korbut in the
1972 Olympics, trying to walk the balance beam without falling off. That's the
metaphor for any modern President.
I'd love to hear your opinions. Should the U.S.
or not? Click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.