The irony of the Obama presidency may hinge on whether he attacks Syria. He began his presidency prematurely winning the Nobel Peace Prize and could end it being impeached for starting an illegal war without congressional or UN approval – violating both domestic and international law.
Yesterday 163 Members of Congress sent letters to President Obama telling him that under the US Constitution he is required to get congressional approval before beginning a military attack. The letter drafted by Rep. Scott Rigel (R-VA) had 140 signatures, 119 Republicans and 21 Dems. Rep. Barbara Lee also circulated a letter that had 53 signers, that calls on the president to seek congressional approval.
The Rigel letter warned Obama that engaging in military action “would violate the Separation of Powers Clause that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.” They also note that the justification for war in Libya also violated the Constitution. The Lee letter warns that “we all swore to uphold and defend” the Constitution; and that we should not engage in an “unwise war – especially without adhering to our own Constitutional requirements.” In their concluding paragraph they warn “Before weighing the use of military force, Congress must fully debate and consider the facts and every alternative …”
President Obama knows the limits of his powers. In fact, if there is an impeachment proceeding his own words will be quoted. When he was running for president, Obama told the Boston Globe: “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.”
Vice President Biden, in a 2007 campaign event in Iowa, went further, not only stating clearly that the president does not have unilateral power to conduct military attacks but threatening impeachment of President Bush if he did so.
The Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States was explicit calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval before going to war, noted that under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the US Constitution, it is the Congress that determines whether the United States goes to war. They also highlight the potential of impeachment writing: “If President Obama launches an attack without prior explicit authorization by Congress, he will have committed an offense worthy of impeachment.” [Disclosure, I serve as Attorney General in the alternative cabinet.]
If impeachment proceedings are held all of the doubts about the war will come out. People in the military have protected themselves by telling President Obama that they have serious doubts about a military attack. The have warned Obama about potential blowback, misusing the military to send a message with no clear strategy, drawing the US into a vexing war when they are already burdened by a complicated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some have used words like “potentially devastating consequences.” Reportedly, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of U.S. military intervention in Syria, warning “deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
If the war goes wrong, and wars almost always go wrong, President Obama will see the memorandums of various members of the military who warned him. And, they will be called to testify and tell the world that President Obama was warned but went ahead anyway – without congressional approval in violation of the Constitution.
What could go wrong? Syria has the ability to defend itself and attack US military vessels. Iran and Russia have already indicated they will be drawn into the conflict. Threats of retaliation are already being made and troop movements are occurring. Russia is moving two additional naval ships, a missile cruiser and a large anti-submarine vessel, into the Mediterranean to strengthen its presence in case of a US attack. Russia and Saudi Arabia have exchanged threats over Syria. Russia threatening an attack on Saudi Arabia if the US attacks Syria with President Putin ordering a “massive military strike” against Saudi Arabia in the event that the West attacks Syria. Saudi Arabia is threatening Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia at the Olympics.
Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have threatened to retaliate against Israel and other US allies in the Middle East in the event of a US attack on Syria. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told the Tasnim news website, that an attack on Syria “means the immediate destruction of Israel.”
Obama could be starting a much larger war than he realizes and doing so without congressional or UN approval. Why would Obama take this tremendous risk?
The military attack does not seem to be based on reliable intelligence. The intelligence community is also protecting itself. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported there are lots of gaps in U.S. intelligence including who ordered the use of chemical weapons and where those chemical weapons are now. President Obama himself has provided no evidence to support the administration’s claim that the chemical weapons came from Assad. In addition, people who turn off the corporate media and think about the situation realize that the claim that Assad used chemical weapons makes no sense from Assad’s point of view. He has been defeating the rebel forces. Why would he take an action that would give the US an excuse to enter the war?
And, the Guardian is reporting that the United States is acting based on Israeli intelligence that supposedly intercepted communications in Syria. Does President Obama want to risk the unpredictable consequences of war and impeachment based on reports from the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, a political leader he has had a stormy relationship with and who would like nothing more than to see the Democrats replaced by the neocon Republicans. Does he want to trust a government that has its own conflicts with Syria over the Golan Heights and that has wanted Assad replaced for a long time? Israeli has its own agenda, should they be trusted here?
What is the Obama administration doing to investigate the reports that in fact it was Saudi Arabia that provided the chemical weapons that was used to the rebels? Multiple witnesses are making these claims. Is Obama going to go to war without investigating this possibility? Maybe he has the wrong target and it was not Assad who is responsible?
If the war goes badly after Obama attacks without congressional approval, you can be sure that the fact that the closest ally of the United States, Great Britain, voted against intervention will be used against him. On the coalition front, President Obama will be standing very alone. Not only has Britain backed out but Egypt has said the Suez Canal can’t be used, and Jordan has said their land can’t be used. The solo-cowboy approach would make the phony Bush “coalition of the willing” that joined in the mistaken attack on Iraq look like brilliant diplomacy.
And, then there is international law. Great Britain has asked the Security Council to consider a resolution on Syria. The UN inspectors are returning with their initial investigation on Saturday. Reports are President Obama may attack Syria as soon as they leave. With the report and Security Council resolution pending an attack would look reckless and show incredible hubris. He will have blatantly violated international law and committed “the supreme international crime.”
This all adds up to a major blunder in the making if President Obama does not find a way to back track from his war threats. While I believe that an attack on Syria would be a mistake no matter what Congress does, those who believe a military strike is necessary should at a minimum bring the matter to Congress and wait for the UN inspectors report and a decision from the Security Council.
The risk of impeachment needs to be part of the balance in Obama’s thinking. The Republicans have been out to destroy him since he was elected. Attacking Syria without congressional approval will give them a weapon. And, you can be sure they will use it, and with their majority control of the House, a vote for impeachment in that Chamber is not unlikely.
If Obama proceeds to war without going to Congress for approval, the irony of an impeachment conviction for an illegal war by the president who won a Nobel Peace Prize may indeed come to pass. President Obama’s legacy will be that of a president who started an illegal war.