There is little debate that the Syrian civil war is an atrocity worthy of intervention; however, President Obama's unilateral decision to stage an intervention in Syria is one that should give the country great pause. It is undeniably an unconstitutional decision and also represents a dramatic change in the policies and beliefs of his administration.
"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," Obama told the Boston Globe in 2007 when speaking about Iran.
Should this pattern continue, it may very well be the case that in the future presidents will engage in many debates without Congress' support. Though conjecture, the pattern is unsettling.
The decision has surprised many, especially as it has received a fair amount of bipartisan support even though it sets a dangerous precedent and violates what is typically so wholeheartedly defended. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told Fox News on Thursday that President Barack Obama has the constitutional authority to launch military action against Syria without approval from Congress. King offered Ronald Reagan's use of force in Grenada and Bill Clinton's strikes against Kosovo as examples of presidents deploying troops without congressional consent. He added, however, that Obama would be wise to first consult leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives. He also stressed that any hostilities in Syria would require an overarching objective, and that this endeavor could not merely last two or three days.
This decision very clearly violates the United States Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 specifies that only Congress has the authority to declare war. While an executive order can be written, this should only be done with extreme discretion, something Obama seems to have failed to do. That presidents have circumvented this directive before does not justify doing so in the future.
Even more worrisome, this isn't the first time that Obama has engaged in a conflict without the approval of Congress. During the Arab Spring in 2011, he ordered the U.S. to join the international coalition working to implement a no-fly zone in Libya, a conflict that he declared posed a threat to American values. Recently, four Americans were killed while fighting in Libya more than two years after the U.S. engaged in the conflict.
Many senators argue that the United States does not have the capacity to act as the world's police force, and that after years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American public is war-weary and America's valiant military members are overextended. In a time of budget cuts, resources are running thin and any choice to use them must be carefully considered. It's reckless to launch an expensive intervention in Syria given that its civil war, terrible though it may be, does not present a clear and present danger to the United States.
King's support of Obama is also noteworthy. For a man who once called Obama's track record for dealing with terrorism "schizophrenic," it is strange he supports this violation of the Constitution so wholeheartedly. It has also split a once united Republican Party into Bush-era supporters and a new wave of libertarians who would prefer to refrain from any expense, humanitarian or not. King, part of the first group which also includes Senators McCain (R-Ariz.) and Graham (R-S.C.), believes that playing a positive role in the intervention will give the United States a seat at the bargaining table once the regime falls. They are looking to make some strategic friends.
As the conflict in Syria continues, it is important that the world keep a close eye on the situation. However, it is also important to consider the long-term costs. A brief foray into the country will not give the United States a good name when chaos ensues should the regime fall. It may very well be the case that the U.S. will leave the country before it is safe, as the costs have become too high, which will foster deep anti-U.S. sentiments in the country, much like in Iraq.
And that, President Obama, is worth discussing with Congress.