Friday, August 30, 2013

The War Powers Act and the Constitution

Secretary of State John Kerry moments ago finished making his case for President Obama to launch an attack on Syria to punish Bashar Assad for alleged use of chemical weapons. In my previous post, I noted the ironic reversal of roles from George W. Bush and the Iraq War to Barack Obama and Syria. What Obama, Kerry and their ilk were so vociferously opposed to then, they're basically doing a carbon copy now. And with much, much less national and international support than George W. Bush had for the Iraq strike in the wake of 9/11.

On top of all this, the war powers of the presidency under the Constitution are being debated again. Linked here is an interesting article by Robert Turner about this issue, with some historical evidence of how this subject began and evolved in our Constitutional history. The United States Congress has not declared war (its sole prerogative under the Constitution) since World War II, and after Vietnam, tried to restrict presidents' use of the military under the War Powers Act. Presidents since then have declared this act unconstitutional, but it's never been tested in court. Perhaps it should be.

Regardless of how you might feel about whether it's appropriate to intervene in Syria, I think most European nations with the exception of France (itself a peculiarity) are wary of getting involved in this. And I have a strong suspicion that this wariness is largely due to Obama himself being perceived as weak, incompetent and unreliable. Some (including commentators here in America) feel that Obama is pushing this less for humanitarian reasons and more because of his own credibility. If that's true, it's both tragic and criminal.

And on the note of credibility, that is one area where I disagree with the author of the linked article. He said that future presidents would be constrained if Obama's credibility ended up in tatters. (It's already there, largely). I don't think so. I don't think other national leaders would be either. After all, consider the administration of Jimmy Carter, and his failure in Iran at the time. Carter was perceived as weak and feckless. Enter Ronald Reagan, and the situation changed markedly. When Reagan said "Back off!!" - he meant it, and I think most nations knew it. Bush the elder and Bush the younger also meant what they said and backed it up with force.

It would be no different here. A new president could make it clear that a new sheriff is in town. And if they wasted no time in backing their warning up with action, the message would be received very quickly.

Unfortunately, we don't have that right now. And our next president is going to have an enormous mess to clean up thanks to the knotheads we have running the store right now.

No comments: