An interesting yet mostly unremarked upon consequence of Obama’s surprise decision to seek congressional authorization for attacking Syria is that it perversely has the effect of delegitimizing the role of Congress in making war as well as the separation of powers.
Let me explain.
If the legislative branch has equal weight with the executive – you know, the way the founding fathers intended, what you learned in school – then Obama’s statement that he has the right to attack Syria without congressional approval but is simply asking in order to have a vigorous debate makes him the head of a parliamentary monarchy, not a president. Students of history will recall that King Louis XVI recalled the monarchal French parliament, the Estates-General, in 1789 in order to propose solutions to his government’s financial problems. They were a consultative body. But they served at the pleasure of the king and could be disbanded by him.
The former University of Chicago law professor is essentially arguing that Congress exists as a consultative body, not one with equal powers to him. In fact, under the United States Constitution, Congress has far more warmaking powers than the president, and the oft-talked-about term “commander-in-chief”, under the meaning of the 18th century when it was written, was a largely ceremonial position.
It is true that many presidents, going back to the early 19th century, have usurped Congress’ role. However, that doesn’t make it legal. What Obama is doing goes even further than presidents who ignored or bypassed Congress. He is in effect saying that whether Congress is consulted or not is up to him. It is amazing that nobody sees this.
Bear in mind, the fact that Obama claims that he is doing this in order to respect democracy is belied by his attempt to get his British allies to ram through approval, only to have it turned down by Parliament. He wanted to do this without Congress, but he can’t do it without the British or any significant popular support among the American people. So in a sense, he is allowing the Republicans to take the blame for whatever happens or doesn’t happen in Syria due to action or inaction. It’s just another cynical move.
By attempting to rush the American people into a war in under a week, and undermining the basic separation of powers to an unprecedented extent, President Obama may well be the most dangerous chief executive who has led United States of America.