President Obama is again asserting his right to act unilaterally and without congressional approval in going to war. In what has become a mantra for this Administration, Obama reportedly told members of Congress that he does not need congressional approval to unleash a comprehensive military campaign against the Islamic State. The President informed a few members at a dinner — a striking image of how low congressional authority has become in our tripartite system of government.
We have been discussing the growing concerns over President Barack Obama’s series of unilateral actions in ordering agencies not to enforce law, effectively rewriting laws, and moving hundreds of millions of dollars from appropriated purposes to areas of his choosing. One of the greatest concerns has been his unchecked authority asserted in the national security area. I previously represented members of Congress in challenging Obama’s intervention in the Libyan civil war without a declaration from Congress.
In the case, President Obama insisted that he alone determines what is a war and therefore when he needs a declaration. Since the court would not recognize standing to challenge the war, it left Obama free to engage in war operations in any country of his choosing. As with his approach in Libya, Syria and other combat operations (and most recently on whether he will resume the war in Iraq), Obama is again asserting his extreme view of executive power.
As in the past, Democrats are not just silent but actually applauding the circumvention of Congress — a precedent that will likely come back to haunt them if the next president is a Republican.
I have repeatedly testified (here and here and here and here) and wrote a columnon President Obama’s increasing circumvention of Congress in negating or suspending U.S. laws. However, war is a particularly egregious form of this unilateralism since the Framers worked hard to limit such powers under Article I and Article II.
Not only is the United States about to enter a new military campaign based solely on the President’s authority but he is promising to fight to the Islamic State “wherever their strategic targets are.” That may suggest additional violation of international law if the United States acts unilaterally with regard to the borders of foreign nations. Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, seems to anticipate and support such actions. She is quoted as saying “This is not an organization that respects international boundaries. You cannot leave them with a safe haven.” For some countries, that view may seem quite threatening since the United States has been repeatedly accused of bombing and conducting operations in other countries without approval.
Once again, we are left with the questions of any limiting principle to this new uber-presidency. A president can now unleash a military campaign without congressional approval that could involve multiple nations. Yet, Congress seems content, again, to watch in a purely pedestrian role as if this invitation to a “dinner” is a sufficient substitute for congressional authorization. While it is not a check or balance, the president did pick up the check.
Reprinted with permission from author’s website.