Obama to Congress: I Don't Need Your Authorization for War, But Give It to Me Anyway

Terence P. Jeffrey | August 31, 2013 | 4:08pm EDT
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President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said today in a speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden that he is asking Congress to vote to authorize him to use military force in Syria—while insisting he does not need congressional authorization to order the U.S. military to commit acts of war in that Middle Eastern country.

“I have long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” Obama said at one point in the speech. “That’s why I have made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

A moment later, Obama insisted that he did not need the authorization of Congress to unilaterally order the military to use force in Syria.

Obama did not explain from what source he believed he derived the authority to order U.S.military action against Syria if not from a resolution constitutionally approved by the U.S. Congress. He simply asserted that he believed he had that unilateral power.

He did note that the United Nations had not approved such action, and that the British Parliament had specifically voted against the use of British force in Syria despite the fact that British Prime Minister David Cameron had advocated for it.

“I am comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that so far has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable,” said Obama.

“As a consequence many people have advised against taking this decision to Congress, and undoubtedly they were impacted by what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week when the Parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal—even as the prime minister supported taking action,” Obama said.

“Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” he said.

Obama suggested that the reasons the U.S. needed to use military force in Syria—even if alone in doing so—was to protect the credibility of “the international system.”

“What is the purpose of the international system that we have built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the government of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United is not enforced?” he said.

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall have the power … To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

In the notes he took at the Constitutional Convention, James Madison, who was involved in proposing this language, said it was designed to give the Congress power to decide when the nation would initiate the use of military force, “leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.”

George Washington, who commanded American forces in the revolutionary war and who presided over the Constitutional Convention, abided by the understanding of the war power that Madison had explained in his notes.

“The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress,” President Washington wrote in 1793, “therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure."

Obama did not argue in his speech on Saturday that he believed the Syrian regime was preparing a sudden attack on the United States. In fact, he indicated that he believes the U.S. can bide its time—taking up to even a month--before attacking Syria.

“The chairman of the join chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose,” Obama said. “Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from know.”

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