Yesterday evening 116 members of the House, including 18 Democrats as well as 98 Republicans, sent President Obama a letter urging him to "consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria." They note that "your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution [which gives Congress the authority "to declare war"] and the War Powers Resolution of 1973," which says "the President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities." As J.D. Tuccille noted last night, Obama as a senator and presidential candidate agreed that "the 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." He forgot about that when he unilaterally decided to intervene in Libya's civil war, but even then he did not question the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, arguing instead that bombing the crap out of forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi did not amount to "hostilities." That claim, which contradicted the advice of Obama's own Office of Legal Counsel, was about as plausible as saying the entire population's phone records are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. "If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute 'hostilities,'" the representatives who signed yesterday's letter ask, "what does?"
Since Obama says the point of military action against Syria is to deter further use of chemical weapons against opponents of the Assad regime, he clearly is not claiming his aim would be "stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's opponent in the presidential campaign during which the latter defended the legislative branch's war powers, offers a different rationale. "This is the same president that two years ago said that Bashar Assad must leave office, and so where is America's credibility?" the avid interventionist said on Fox News. "Where is our ability to influence events in the region?" As I said in June, when Obama decided to arm Syria's rebels because Assad had crossed a "red line" drawn by Obama, the argument that U.S. forces should be deployed not to defend the nation but to protect "America's credibility" is a recipe for ever-escalating intervention aimed at vindicating bad decisions.
Update: The number of representatives signing the letter has risen to 140.