Congress Challenges Obama's Authority to Attack Syria

Thursday, 29 Aug 2013 03:59 PM

By David A. Patten

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Congressional resistance to U.S. military retaliation following Syria's apparent use of nerve gas on its own people appears to be escalating.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., in an exclusive Newsmax interview, says any plan to attack Syria must be submitted to Congress for approval.

"The president is not a dictator," Wolf tells Newsmax. "He cannot just unilaterally decide to do this, because the threat is not to the United States."

Wolf is one of 140 members of the House, including 21 Democrats, who have signed onto a letter to President Obama advising him that he has a constitutional duty to seek a green light from Congress before launching any hostilities. The letter was written by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., whose district includes the major Navy air station in Norfolk, Va.

The president also received a letter Wednesday from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging him to "make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America's credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be part of our broader policy and strategy."

Some analysts interpreted Boehner's correspondence as a signal the Republican-controlled House intends to challenge Obama's authority to launch an attack without congressional approval.

The growing sentiment on Capitol Hill for consultations could complicate the administration's apparent plan to punish Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for deadly sarin gas attacks. The administration has already stated the attacks are clearly the Assad regime's responsibility.

The U.N. Security Council and the Arab League have both refused to endorse a military response, however. War fever appears to have cooled in the United Kingdom as well, with British Prime Minister David Cameron losing a Parliamentary vote on using military force to attack Syria's regime and aid rebels.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the nerve-gas attacks that killed hundreds of civilians as a "moral obscenity." On Wednesday, President Obama said he would consider a "shot across the bow" of Syria's leadership, presumably a reference to a missile strike that would punish but not topple the embattled Assad regime.

The president's options appear to be hemmed in by his previous description of chemical weapons as a red line that would trigger a U.S. response. Strategists presume that Iran's mullahs, who continue their headlong pursuit of nuclear enrichment, will watch carefully to see whether U.S. saber-rattling is to be taken seriously. Iran is a major supporter of Assad's Alawite regime, and Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently warned that U.S. military intervention in Syria would be "a disaster for the region."

Given the lack of support for military action seen in the past 24 hours, Wolf says it is no longer clear what course of action the president will take. "It’s hard to know what he is going to do," Wolf says.

Senior administration officials were scheduled to brief the congressional leadership Thursday afternoon. Wolf urged the president to call Congress back into session for an up-or-down vote on the administration's plan of action. So far, he says, "rank-and-file" members of Congress have received no intelligence on what precisely took place and who is responsible. Congress is currently scheduled to remain in recess until Sept. 9.

On both sides of the Pacific, the Syrian conflict is under the specter of the West's involvement in Iraq. That war began with the widely held, but ultimately inaccurate, belief that Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction. The legacy of Iraq and other Western campaigns in the Middle East is making a consensus on attacking Assad more difficult.

"I am deeply mindful of the lessons of previous conflicts," Cameron told Parliament Wednesday. "This is not like Iraq. What we're seeing in Syria is fundamentally different."

Wolf has been a leading proponent of special congressional hearings to investigate the Benghazi debacle that left four Americans dead. While not ruling out the possibility that he might ultimately support a military response against Syria, Wolf voiced concern over the results of recent U.S. military campaigns in the Middle East.

"Things did not go well in Iraq, and things are still going poorly in Iraq," Wolf said. "Things have not gone well in Afghanistan. Obama went in and dealt with the Libyan issue, which has created Benghazi — and we've seen what's taken place."

In Libya, the Obama administration justified hostilities by stating the campaign was in America's "national interest," and would be short-lived.

Rigell's letter asserts, however, that the rationale used to attack Libya is unconstitutional.

His letter to the president states: "Engaging our military in Syria, when no direct threat to the United States exists, and without prior congressional authorization, would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution."


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