War Powers Co-Author: President Obama Doesn't Have Authority to Strike in Syria Without Congressional Approval (So, Illegal, If That Matters)

Efforts still underway to de-escalate situation


White House

Former Republican Congressman Paul Findley is a co-author of the 1973 War Powers Resolution that formalized the division of war powers that had emerged after World War II. In an interview with Politico, Findley points to President Obama's decision to wait for Congress to return from vacation to deliberate action in Syria as evidence the president does not have the authority to take unilateral military action in Syria.

A court ruled in a 2000 case, Campbell v. Clinton, that members of Congress did not have standing to sue over violations of the War Powers Act because they could seek a remedy legislatively. That case involved Bill Clinton's intervention in Kosovo, which the president claimed he had the authority to launch based on his power as commander in chief. Congress never remedied this situation legislatively—they rejected both authorizations of the use of military force in the former Yugoslavia and an attempt to require Clinton to withdraw US forces from the NATO-led Kosovo operation. The War Powers Act allows the president to commit military forces for 60 days before requiring Congressional authorization—the Kosovo campaign lasted 79.

More than a decade later, President Obama returned to the well of Congressless war, deploying US forces in support of NATO's intervention in Libya; here the president argued that Congressional authorization was not required for the first 60 days of US operations or after that because US military forces were deployed in support of a NATO action, not for an American action. Congress, again, failed to either authorize the use of force or to end it; a resolution introduced by Speaker Boehner, and passed by the Congress, gave the president an additional 14 days to explain himself. He never did.

This time, absent support from NATO or the UN that the president could use to cloak his illegal war actions, Obama has sought Congressional authorization for military action in Syria. Nevertheless, he still says he doesn't need it. In fact, in the face of overwhelming opposition to military action among the American public, and heated opposition also in parts of the Congress, the president continues to personally lobby for war and intends to address the country tomorrow night to make the case for war in Syria.

In the meantime, John Kerry appeared to draw his own red line today, calling for Bashar Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons within a week. Syria in response said it supported a proposal by Russia that its chemical weapons stockpiled be transferred to international control. The attempt to de-escalate the situation could be rejected by the United States, but would also undercut the somewhat tenuous reasons thrown up to go to intervene in Syria.

And if the march to war in Syria really is just a distraction for the scandals engulfing the White House, I hear George Zimmerman's in the news again.