Senators Bob Corker, Rand Paul, and Tim Kaine agree: Congress should be consulted before President Obama takes any more military action in Iraq or Syria. “This fight, and the threat posed by ISIL, is serious enough that Congress and the administration must be united on U.S. policy going forward,” Kaine said in a statement. “I urge the administration to use the next two weeks to clearly define the strategy and objectives of its mission … then bring it to Congress for a debate and authorization vote.”
President Obama knows the Constitution demands that. Before taking office, he was a U.S. senator and a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, so he had expertise to draw upon when asked about the war power in 2007. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” he told the Boston Globe.
Yet twice in his present term, Obama has prepared to unilaterally order military strikes on Syria, in violation of both the law and his own previous notion of prudent policy. “History has shown us time and again that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch,” he declared in that same 2007 interview. “It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
The first time that Obama nearly ordered a strike on Syria without congressional permission, he was going to target the country’s repressive dictator. He “abruptly changed course” at the last moment and sought legislative input. In doing so, he avoided an intervention that the American public did not support. The New York Times nevertheless characterized that act of deference to the Constitution as a “risky gamble” for the White House, as if the country was clamoring for a new war. As predicted, the public forgot about Syria as soon as it faded from the news, and Obama paid no political price for not bombing the country.
Today, the White House is once again signaling that war may be close at hand, though this time instead of striking Syria’s dictator, there is talk of U.S. air strikes against ISIS, a radical Islamist group that Syria’s dictator is currently fighting. Picking up on the hawkish shrieks of Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, The New York Times notes that “Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a precursor to potential airstrikes there,” while Yahoo News reports that the White House has no plans to ask Congress for permission if it decides to start bombing.