Although supposedly Americans are in favor of taking military action against ISIL, President Obama's decision to go forward without congressional approval and a vote makes little sense, either politically or strategically.
The War Powers Act clearly states that the President may act unilaterally only if there is imminent danger to the United States (“a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”) In the absence of such an imminent threat, the President may act unilaterally for only sixty days and must thereafter wait for a congressional vote.
President Obama is a lawyer, and a good one. Furthermore, last year he decided that he would not act in Syria without congressional authorization. That was also an important moment, because Syria was supposedly using illegal chemical weapons. This year, though, he has elected to skate around the War Powers Act, using the tortured legal argument that Congress' 2002 vote permitting George Bush to invade Iraq authorizes him to go into Syria. That's an argument that no first year law student can accept.
Here is what he could have done instead. He could have said to the nation, “I lack the power to decide to make war on ISIL unilaterally. I do have the power to act for 60 days to keep the status quo in order, but I will not go beyond that, and for two reasons. First, the law requires it. And second, regardless of whether we decide to go to war against ISIL or not, we cannot be sure which path to take. In 2002, I opposed going into Iraq, and I argued that going into Iraq ran the risk of making a stable but bad situation worse. And I was right. When I was elected President, we had been at war for over five years, without positive results. I was elected because I promised to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I carried out that promise. At this moment, there is no right answer as to whether we should go to war or not, and without the total backing of the American electorate, through their representatives, I am not empowered to make that decision unilaterally. The House of Representatives is presently suing me, arguing that I have acted unilaterally in connection with the Affordable Care Act. I think the House is incorrect in that case, but if I were to act unilaterally in violation of the War Powers Act, they would have a legitimate complaint that I was overstepping my authority. So, again, I will not act illegally when the law is clear.”
President Obama could have easily put the entire burden on John Boehner and his party. The House of Representatives is supposed to be the representatives of the people, and if the people want war, the House should vote for it.
What would have happened if he had done this? He would have acted for 60 days, and after that, the House of Representatives (controlled by the Republicans) and the Senate (controlled by the Democrats) would have both had to vote in favor of war to have one.
It is pretty obvious that neither party wants to have a vote on this issue, because individual senators and representatives think that they would be risking their positions by voting for war (or voting against war). So that is really what is going on and why the President is acting unilaterally when by all rights he should be leaving the decision up to Congress. He is taking the political responsibility because his party in Congress doesn't want to.
But there's one more wrinkle which the President and Harry Reid, majority leader in the Senate, could have used. The President could have said, “Since 2010, the House of Representatives has been controlled by the Republicans, and they have refused to act even when it was painfully obvious that they should. In the present case, if they believe that we should go to war, then they should vote that way. And if the House votes for war, I am certain that the Senate will, too. But it would be pointless for the Senate to vote for war without the House doing so first, because in far too many instances the Senate has acted and the House has refused to do so. So I have suggested to Senator Reid that he wait for the House to act and then act afterwards.”
In other words, President Obama could have easily put the entire burden on John Boehner and his party. The House of Representatives is supposed to be the representatives of the people, and if the people want war, the House should vote for it. But he didn't do that. Why?
Please note that the description above as to how the President could have acted makes perfect sense, and it would have placed the burden on the Republicans to take the deciding step instead of permitting them to duck their responsibilities. After all, in deciding whether or not to go to war on ISIS, there is really no right or wrong answer. If the U.S. does nothing, ISIS might remain in power. However, the combined forces of Turkey, Iran, and other powers in the Middle East could defeat them, and by refusing to act, the U.S. would force those powers to take responsibility for their own homelands. They might act, or they might not. ISIS might be defeated, might prevail, or might collapse under its own weight. And we do know that, regardless of what decision the U.S. might make, it could be right or wrong. The decisions made by George Bush and Richard Cheney in 2002 to go to war in Iraq shows how wrong it could be.
So – if the strategy described above makes sense, why didn't President Obama take that course? And the simple answer is, “Probably because the people who control him and the government want war.” They want war to protect their interests in oil, and they want war because it allows them to sell more arms to the U.S. Military. Just remember that every Tomahawk missile fired at ISIS costs $1.41 million.
Someone is making a lot of money out of this new war. And that someone has control of President Obama.
Michael T. Hertz