President Obama finds himself under mounting pressure to bring Congress into deliberations on whether to go to war with Syria after its latest chemical attack. Obama finds himself as the commander in chief, but still has to declare war.
The framers of the Constitution laid the groundwork for tension between the two branches of government whenever confronted with that gravest of decisions. They dictated that the president would be the commander in chief of the military but that Congress should have the power to declare war.
That latter prerogative, established at a time when warfare was waged with musket balls, has been rendered almost meaningless in the modern era. Congress has not issued a formal declaration of war since 1942 — even though the decades since have seen the U.S. military engaged in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.
“Congress really does not share in that decision until after the fact. The war-making power has passed to the president,” said Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who was chairman of the House foreign affairs and intelligence committees. “A lot of people, including myself, have been critical of Congress for being too deferential.”
Americans still view the commitment of U.S. forces to be a decision — and a burden — that should be shared between the executive and legislative branches of government, even when citizens themselves are not so certain what the proper course of action should be.
In a new NBC News poll, respondents were divided on whether the United States should intervene in the wake of alleged chemical weapons attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
However, opinion in the poll was clear when asked whether Obama “should or should not be required to receive approval from Congress before taking military action in Syria.” Nearly eight in 10 said he should.
Those kind of numbers have persisted on similar questions going at least as far back as the Vietnam era. And it is a position that also draws support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, something that rarely happens in these hyper-partisan days.
The concern on Capitol Hill has been intensified by the decision of Britain, normally a stalwart comrade in arms, not to participate in action against Syria.