For those that listened to the President's speech Tuesday night
there was an interesting nugget.
That's my judgment as Commander-in-Chief. But I'm also the President of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.
This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people's representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
He believes he has the authority to act, but believes that Congress should decide. This is basically a rejection of the Unitary Executive doctrine. You'll recall we had some serious debates about this doctrine during the previous administration
. (Read the whole thing... lotsa interesting things in there)
Statement by the President, November 4, 2002: "The executive branch shall construe section 530D of title 28, and related provisions in section 202 of the Act, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authorities of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties."
Here is the basic theory, from Wikipedia
The unitary executive theory is a theory of American constitutional law holding that the President controls the entire executive branch. The doctrine is based upon Article Two of the United States Constitution, which vests "the executive power" of the United States in the President.
Although that general principle is widely accepted, there is disagreement about the strength and scope of the doctrine. It can be said that some favor a "strongly unitary" executive, while others favor a "weakly unitary" executive. The former group argue, for example, that Congress's power to interfere with intra-executive decision-making (such as firing executive branch officials) is limited, and that the President can control policy-making by all executive agencies within the limits set for those agencies by Congress. Still others agree that the Constitution requires a unitary executive, but believe this is a bad thing, and propose its abolition by constitutional amendment.
You remember Bush and his signing statements? He loved them so much he signed over 120 of them. At least one of them was regarding Syria
It is hard to imagine a sharper contrast between Obama's approach on Syria and the one George W. Bush outlined in a signing statement a decade ago, when he signed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 on Dec. 12. Bush repeatedly used signing statements as levers to enhance his executive authority, and the Syria Accountability Act provides a vivid illustration of how closely he guarded the right to set U.S. foreign policy on his own terms.
The measure aimed to combat Syria's support for terrorism by imposing sanctions, but Bush made it clear he would pursue whatever policy he saw fit.
Noting that one section requires the president "to take certain actions against Syria unless the President either determines and certifies to the Congress that the Government of Syria has taken specific actions," the statement continues, "A law cannot burden or infringe the President's exercise of a core constitutional power by attaching conditions precedent to the use of that power."
We know how the previous administration dealt with pursuing their policies. With over a decade (arguable decades -- plural) of war and blowback we are experiencing to this very day affects not only our nation, but the entire world.
Tuesday night, President Obama made it clear that the responsibility to militarily
enter into the Syrian crisis should be on the legislative branch of our government. That's a pretty big deal. It's the second time I've seen this President give up some of the power of the Executive office. Last May I wrote that the President called for the end of the AUMF
. Powers given to the previous administration should never have been given. This is the beginning of a serious reset regarding how we deal with war and military action in this nation and I believe this is a good thing. The Executive branch is responsible for diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to curb this crisis.
We still have a long way to go and the situation in Syria is still very fluid, but putting the onus back on Congress would be the first time since World War II that a president actually invoked Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution that grants Congress the sole power “to declare war.”
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
The last time a President asked Congress to go to war was during the Truman administration
Which brings us back to Truman, who in 1950 balked at asking a Congress weary after World War II for approval to militarily respond to the Communist attack on South Korea. Dean Acheson, Truman’s secretary of state, claimed in his memoirs that a congressional debate over the Korean War “would hardly be calculated to support the shaken morale of the troops or the unity that, for the moment, prevailed at home.”
Acheson may not have remembered that military morale and national unity are not mentioned in the Constitution. But the war-marking powers of Congress are at the heart of the nation’s founding document. It was as if the sign on Truman’s desk read, “The Buck Stops Here — And This Is Also Where the Constitution Is Twisted.”
The plain-spoken Truman resorted to weaselly words to claim that Korea was a United Nations-sponsored “police action” rather than a war. No other American “police action” has ever led to 54,246 wartime deaths.
That last part is technically true, but we would be remiss to mention that Vietnam is referred to as a conflict, not a war
. I think we know better -- it was definitely a war.
Use of the term does not appear to have gained currency outside of the limited arena of justification of military action: for example, the U.S. Navy refers to the Korean conflict as the Korean War, and when they refer to police action, they surround the term in quotation marks.
Similarly, a plaque at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial refers to the Vietnam Conflict as a war, not a police action even though it was undeclared.
Use of the term police action is intended to imply either a claim of formal sovereignty or of authority to intervene militarily at a nation's own discretion, typically unilaterally or with a small group of nations. This is often done through the United Nations or by asserting that the military operation is defensive or humanitarian in nature such as the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti or the Invasion of Grenada.
Veterans often display a high degree of disdain for the term "police action," as it somehow implies that their sacrifices were not legitimate and perhaps also that they are not even veterans of a true "war".
Having said that, 58,220 U.S. service members died in the conflict
What we are witnessing here is a slow rollback of what had been labeled in the 1960's as The Imperial Presidency
. President Obama said this on Tuesday night:
This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the President, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
For a second time in less than a year, He is asking to have his war-making powers to be curtailed. It's confusing a lot of people
, but this is what I believe is happening.
It's shocking once you think about it.