U.K. Lawmakers Actually Vote on Waging War, an Example the U.S. Should Follow

British ParliamentU.K. ParliamentYesterday, something remarkable happened. The elected lawmakers of an English-speaking democracy considered a proposal by the head of government to wage war against another country. After debating the idea, they effectively told him to go pound sand, voting the idea down. Those deliberating legislators weren't American, of course — increasingly rarely does the United States do anything so quaint as setting Congress to the task of approving or disapproving warmaking. The contrast between the vote in the U.K. parliament and the lack thereof in Congress couldn't be more stark.

The increasingly unilateral nature of U.S. foreign policy — especially in its lethal aspects — has been something of a cooperative project in constitutional dysfunction. For all that presidents of both parties are loath to ask the legislative branch to exercise its power to declare war under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, many lawmakers are equally resistant to being committed by an actual up or down vote in a way that might force them to take responsibility for the next bloody and unpopular fiasco. House Speaker John Boehner asked President Obama to “make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interest..." and whether action against Syria might require Congress to authorize more money, but he hasn't called for an actual vote. Pointedly, he hasn't signed on to Rep. Scott Rigell's (R-VA) letter (PDF) demanding that President Obama "consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria." That letter is now up to 140 signatures from lawmakers of both major parties, but that's still a minority of the membership of the House of Representatives.

President Obama, for his part, was once an enthusiastic believer in the idea that "[t]he President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." But that was before he took up residence in the White House and faced the possibility that Congress, like the U.K. parliament, might say "no."

Obama certainly didn't invent unilateral presidential warmaking. The War Powers Resolution passed almost exactly forty years ago in response to a Republican president who had a similar tendency to kill people and blow things up by his own leave. Presidents from both parties have made a habit of thumbing their noses at Congress and that resolution since then.

In fact, unilateral executive action has become so rote that American officials seem to forget that it can be done any other way. After parliament rejected action against Syria, The Guardian reported, "The US appears to have taken British support for granted. Hours before the vote, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Diane Feinstein, expressed confidence that Britain would join any strike." Politico describes the administration as preparing to go it alone after British lawmakers' "stunning rejection" of war.

But a negative vote isn't stunning. Polling shows the British public overwhelmingly opposed to strikes against Syria. Lawmakers there voted in accordance with popular sentiment.

The American public, for its part, is somewhat supportive of standoff cruise missile attacks without boots on the ground, according to NBC polling — a tactic that might make for spectacular explosions, but doesn't necessarily guarantee any change of heart by Syria's government. But Americans also overwhelmingly want the president to seek congressional approval before attacking, according to the same poll.

If President Obama is feeling lonely after the British vote, asking Congress to debate military action would give him excellent cover for either gathering support or backing away from unilateral warmaking — and it would also abide by the Constitution. That's an approach Barack Obama himself would have approved, not so many years ago.

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  • Palin's Buttplug||

    There is nothing stopping Boehner or Reid from calling members back for a vote.

    See the Terry Schiavo ordeal and Tom (the Hammer) DeLay for precedent. Of course, that was very important back then.

  • some guy||

    Both Reid and Boehner have midterms to think about. The political calculus in this case is very complicated. The legal calculus is about as simple as it could be.

  • John||

    And it is not their war. It is not up to them to save Obama's sorry ass. It is up to Obama to get approval for what he wants to do.

  • MJGreen||

    Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of what-have-yous.

  • John||

    And there is nothing stopping Obama from asking for one. But he hasn't and won't because he doesn't want his own party to have to vote for this shit sandwich.

    Fuck you, you now support a war that is illegal under both international and domestic law and isn't even supported by our allies. The Chocolate Nixon has now managed to make Bush look like a statesman. Bush should send him a thank you card.

    Suck it you little fascist creep.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Fuck off, you racist POS.

    There is no "war" to support. I don't support starting one either.

  • John||

    True. Obama may walk back after running his mouth. That would be typical of him. It is not like he means or even knows the meaning of most of what he says.

    And fuck you. You will be on here sucking Obama's cock and excusing him like you always do. You love dead bodies when Obama does them. He is dreamy.

  • Libertymike||

    shriek, I am sure that it has not escaped your notice that, on occasion, I have defended you and have engaged you, right?

    Here, I must castigate you for calling John a racist. I thought that you were more intellectually honest and sophisticated. Calling Obama the chocolate Nixon is both accurate and funny.

    BTW, did you know that Nixon drank four chocolate shakes on the day he debated JFK?

  • John||

    Shreek supports Obama for the single reason that he is black. But we are all racist. And don't forget, this is the same guy who makes jokes and insults about Thomas having a white wife.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I have never commented on Thomas's wife. I have called Thomas the affirmative action justice for his poor judiciary record prior to his being named to replace Thurgood Marshall.

  • John||

    You did too and you know it. Do I need to get the link Shreek? I really don't have time today, but I can get it. You know it is there.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Then why aren't you calling Thurgood Marshall an "affirmative action justice" too? Marshall's judicial record wasn't exactly mind blowing before he was appointed to SCOTUS. He was primarily a talented litigator.

  • Libertymike||

    Wow, he's made jokes and insults about Thomas' wife?

    Most of us here, including you and me, have a bit more contrarian in us than most people. One manifestation of it, for me, is a willingness to engage where you know that it is probably futile.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    John is lying again.

    See my post above.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    John believes Obama's color makes him inferior.

    How do I know this? He insults Obama as "ignorant" while calling Bill Clinton intelligent despite the fact they have exactly the same policies and temperament.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's crap. I agree with John's conclusion completely--Obama strikes me as not being very smart, regardless of credentials, and Clinton clearly was and is intelligent. He's morally vacuous and lacks principles, but his intelligence is obvious.

    This has zero to do with either man's race. My favorite SCOTUS candidate is a black woman, for instance, and I probably like Thomas the most of the current justices.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    I don't see any reason to say Obama is dumb. More like arrogant, brittle, and self-righteous.

    Clinton was a skilled hustler who worked his way up from the swamps of Arkansas state politics. He struck me as having a talent at getting people who disliked him to find him likable. Obama, not so much.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    That's fantastic. Bravo.

  • Libertymike||

    Not that any of the justices thrill me, but I am with Pro insofar as liking Thomas the best.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Policies, maybe, but I don't know how you can say they have the same temperament.

  • R C Dean||

    There is no "war" to support.

    I fail to see how supporting the initiation of military action against a sovereign isn't "war".

    I don't support starting one either.

    So you are opposed to the US dropping one ounce of explosives on Syria? Good for you. I am to.

  • some guy||

    John, one day I would like to talk to you about flies, honey and vinegar. Vitriol only undermines your argument.

  • John||

    Shreek is a sockpuppet. He deserves nothing but scorn and ridicule. He doesn't deserve serious consideration.

  • Rasilio||

    But Shreek is not the only one reading these forums.

    This article (and others) will get retweeted and posted on Facebook where other people will read it and your tone is going to make them more sympathetic to Shreek (and his arguments) than to yours.

    The goal is not to convince Shreek, it is to convince those other readers who may not have made up their minds on the issue(s) yet.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I used to believe this. I really did. But repeating the same shit overandoverandoverandover isn't edifying anyone anymore. It's just annoying.

  • Libertymike||

    Yeah, and you probably get annoyed with me for trying to engage him on a serious level.

  • John||

    BUt you can't engage him. He never makes a salient point. He always changes to subject to be about something else to distract from things that make leftist look bad. Notice he never comes on any of the cop threads or any of the threads that don't involve politics. He only comes on threads like this. And the purpose is to post shit and make the thread about something besides the embarrassing point that he wants to obscure.

    In this thread, he wants us talking about Reid and Boehner not Obama. This is embarrassing to obama and he wants that to be forgotten. He is a sock puppet character invented by leftists who want to screw up the board.

  • some guy||

    He always changes to subject to be about something else to distract from things that make leftist look bad.

    So point out his obfuscation and leave it at that. Ad hominems attacks only make their user look bad.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    some guy,

    It's shriek we're talking about here. Trying to ply it with civil discourse is like trying to reason with a raving lunatic on a street corner.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I am no doubt the most reasonable poster here. The only occasions I stray from civil discourse is when I am personally attacked.

  • John||

    You are real reasonable. You are a nasty idiot sent here to mess up the boards.

  • some guy||

    It's shriek we're talking about here. Trying to ply it with civil discourse is like trying to reason with a raving lunatic on a street corner.

    Do you stand on the street corner and spew vitriol at the raving lunatic? Or do you simply ignore him?

  • Cascadian Ephor Xenocles||

    There doesn't have to be a vote. If there's no vote the course of action should be clear: do nothing absent an imminent or realized threat to the country.

  • MJGreen||

    There is nothing stopping Boehner or Reid from calling members back for a vote.

    And until they do, Barack Obama cannot do anything to Syria.

    Right?

  • some guy||

    I think there is something inherently wrong with a system in which 51% of a large group can force the other 49% to participate in wide scale homicide, mayhem and vandalism.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    You don't support democracy? NAZI!

  • Pro Libertate||

    We don't even have that much of a check on war-making pwoer, apparently.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Or even on power.

  • crashland||

    Amusing that the state with a monarch, an actual freaking monarchy votes on the issue but our executive, supposedly bound by a constitutional limit, can make war whenever he wants.

  • Goldwin Smith||

    Jeez it's like the concept of a constitutional monarchy is so alien to some people.

  • some guy||

    To be fair he hasn't actually done it (in Syria) yet. Right now all we can blame him for is his stupid "red line" rhetoric.

  • Tim||

    ...And to fool the people is his only thought
    And though he's slippery, he still gets caught
    But then if that sort of life is what you wish
    You may grow up to be a fish...

  • James Ard||

    Boehner has already ceded war power authority to Obama once. Not even the embarrassment of Parliament's vote yesterday will stop him from doing it again. Just add this one to the dozens of other cases where Boehner has allowed his House to be run over roughshod by the President.

  • Tim||

    Republicans are fools. They are looking forward to their next president being free to kick ass all over the place, assuming democrats will shut the hell up post Obama.
    I expect that in that future, democrats will turn on a dime and rediscover the virtues of a limited executive. Any comparisons will be dismissed out of hand or condemned as racism.

  • John||

    Of course they will and the media will let them get away with it. The Dem supporters are generally brain dead. So it is not like they will notice. The Republicans are morons if they think they will be allowed to get away with this shit.

  • R C Dean||

    You had me at "Republicans are fools."

  • Meerkatx||

    I truly believe when it comes to war now days our political class just say "fuck the Constitution!"

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