Within days after the chemical attack against civilians in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry declared the U.S. would respond to "indiscriminate use of chemical weapons."
But how they will do that is the big question when Congress, which the Constitution authorizes to declare war, is not in session. This question was equally pressing in 2007, when the Boston Globe asked Obama if the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress.
His answer: "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 said.
Indeed, the Constitution reserves for Congress the exclusive power to declare war, and only after its assent can the commander-in-chief spring into action. But in less than six years, the president seems to have adapted a different interpretation of the U.S. president's constitutional limits.
Obama, in his address on intervention in Libya in 2011, conveyed a slightly broader interpretation of the commander-in-chief's role in driving military action. He said, "as commander-in-chief … I've made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests. … There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help."
This shift to a "broader" interpretation lies in his re-interpretation of what constitutes as a "threat to the nation." In the cases of Iraq and Iran, he considered the threat to be of military nature. In the case of Libya, he considered the threat ideological. He further explained the scope of his authority in his remarks this week during which he stressed, "the international norm against the chemical weapon use needs to be kept in place" and expressed concerns for America's "allies bordering Syria."
Obama is clearly concerned with another possible chemical attack in Syria. But Americans' are concerned about a hasty decision of a military strike, and whether authorizing such is constitutionality valid.
For Obama, the commander-in-chief of "the world's most powerful nation," the best message now might be from his six-years-younger self: "any president takes an oath to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'… the President is not above the law."