The Obama administration is signaling that it will overstep its bounds again, this time with respect to Syria. Many in Congress were upset by President Obama’s use of military force against Libya without Congressional approval. This issue again raises questions about when this nation goes to war, what constitutes the actual making of war, and what is an effective limitation on executive authority in this respect. More pressing than this, however, may be an underlying notion put forward by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on consultation with our allies and the international community before even talking to Congress. A resolution is being offered that threatens an impeachment should President Obama step outside the bounds of his authority and fail to consult with Congress in order to gain their approval before engaging American forces.
Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr.(R-N.C.,) has introduced a resolution stating that should the president use offensive military force without prior authorization by an act of Congress, “it is the sense of Congress” that any such actions would constitute “an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor.” Of course, introducing such a resolution and actually passing it, and then subsequently acting upon it are very different things. According to WND, former Congressman Tom Tancredo believes the bill was offered as a response to the following statement by Leon Panetta, now serving as Secretary of State:
“Our goal would be to seek international permission and we would … come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this, whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress – I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here.”
This was Panetta’s response to Senator Jeff Session(R-Al,) during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. There has long been a significant division between presidents and congresses on the use of military force, but this is an escalation of sorts, because what it admits is that the Obama administration is willing to seek permission from international bodies like the United Nations, but not willing to seek approval from Congress. That’s an absurd reversal of precedent in many respect, because the Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution provides that it shall be Congress that has the authority to declare war.
Here’s video of the exchange:
Of course, what Presidents have long asserted is that not all military actions constitute a war by traditional definition, and that various military incursions do not require approval of Congress. For instance, the operational security of some strikes might be compromised if the President had to go to Congress for each relatively small action. There is a certain truth to this, but at the same time, Congress has addressed this with the War Powers Act, that virtually every President has ignored ever since it was passed. There are vigorous debates over the constitutionality of that act, but what remains certain is that when it comes to declaring war, Congress is the proper authority. Instead, the argument revolves around what constitutes a war requiring that declaration from Congress.
Congress has itself added to the confusion, by passing resolutions that “authorize the use of force” in various contexts, but they have not issued an “resolution of war” since 1941. If Congress is going to assert its authority, it has a long line of precedents it established by its own intransigence or malingering in the last seventy or so years since it last summoned the will to declare war. This has been part of the case that previous presidents have made with respect to Congressional objections in the last four or five decades.
On the other hand, if the Congress actually passes Congressman Jones’ resolution, this might signal the willingness of Congress to take a more fundamentally active role in the foreign and military affairs of the nation. While all presidents would prefer a Congress to act as rubber-stamps for their foreign and military affairs agenda, the fact is that President Obama has been governing wildly outside the norm as commander-in-chief, and his intransigence to long-standing American foreign policy interests is a sore spot in many quarters. His willingness to abandon allies, or support former enemies is a troubling development, and this may be leading Congress to finally re-examine its largely inactive role in that part of the policy arena. Here is the complete wording of the resolution:
Expressing the sense of Congress that the use of offensive military force by a president without prior and clear authorization of an act of Congress constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.
Whereas the cornerstone of the Republic is honoring Congress’s exclusive power to declare war under article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that, except in response to an actual or imminent attack against the territory of the United States, the use of offensive military force by a president without prior and clear authorization of an act of Congress violates Congress’s exclusive power to declare war under Article I, Section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution and therefore constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.
Readers should bear in mind that any such resolution, to carry any force, would need to be approved by the House and the Senate, but that would require the resolution being brought up for a vote. That would effectively require Speaker John Boehner(R-OH) to be in favor of it, or at least willing to put it up for a vote, and I suspect this may not be the case. Boehner has long avoided controversial maneuvers simply because he wants to avoid the possible political fall-out, meaning in too many cases, he has been unwilling to do that which is right in favor of that which he can do in relative political safety. More importantly, it would have to come to a vote in the Senate, and there’s virtually no chance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-NV) would ever permit that. This strangely means that Boehner might be willing to bring it up for a vote, since he knows it would go nowhere in the Senate. That would merely continue the trend of Congress doing nothing to sustain its own power in foreign and military affairs, and that’s what readers should expect.