You probably couldn’t help but come across it in your news feed, a YouTube clip with VP Joe Biden declaring he’d call to impeach any president who declared war in circumstances where US interests weren’t under imminent threat. Tag lines and headlines read, “Joe Biden threatens to impeach President,” or “VP Biden wants to impeach the President.” And there’s that vacuum of context and the perpetual social media sharing of claims that have no grounds, assumptions engineered to simultaneously rile and misinform.
To be clear here, the President must have congressional approval to declare war in situations where the conflict does not have direct impact on the safety of the country. The United States has declared war only five times to date: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. In other conflicts such as Korea and Viet Nam, the U.S. fought under the auspices of membership of the UN security council, where Congress authorized funding for the war efforts, but made no formal declaration. Besides fighting communists, previous presidencies have orchestrated political change in South and Central America and attempted intervention to deter the destruction of humanity in the Balkans, the same impetus President Obama is embracing in considering firing a shot over the bow of Syria. The Gulf War, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the Iraq War of 2003 were not convened with congressional approval of a formal declaration. Congress just allocated funds.
If you’re still reading at this point you might find it interesting that the President’s declaration today in his address that he indeed does have the power to mobilize military action in Syria is not only correct, it’s a power legalized by the Constitution. In matters dealing with foreign relations, the Framers found that a single executive of the United States of America was paramount especially in times of war since a body of congress would be too labored and slow to take decisive action where time was of the essence. It’s one of the reasons why post World War I Europe fell to the fascists; Congress’ Neutrality Acts kept the very ally that could have intervened in the acts against humanity and prevented the destruction of Europe out of the conflict. Fortunately for the Allies, President Franklin Roosevelt broke the rules.
And that’s what makes today both historic and puzzling. President Obama made a public case and appeal to involve Congress on the matter of military action in Syria, a response to a violation of treaty dealing with chemical weapons. It’s historic in that given public opinion on the efficacy and effectiveness of the lawmakers of this country, the President has enlisted in good faith their rationale and debate in the decision-making process. If this isn’t reaching across the aisle, I’m not sure what is. Pundits were touting it as political ass-covering on one hand and whole-hearted diplomacy on the other. What’s puzzling to me is the nature of the syntax of this military initiative.
It appears the reason the United States is considering military intervention in the Syrian civil war is because its government has used chemical weapons on its people. Just yesterday, according to Sky News, the International Business Times, and The Independent, a Syrian jet bombed a playground with a napalm-like substance killing ten children and seriously wounding dozens of others and yet this story manages to fly under the radar of American press. If Asaad and his military are in such blatant and violent violation of human rights, does the US truly need the justification of a treaty violation on chemical weapons to intervene? Roosevelt didn’t, but the world wasn’t as dastardly then either.
It’s my opinion President Obama was his wisest today in his speech. It’s clear his administration, under intense scrutiny from every corner, is calculating consequences, examining history and precedent, and vetting intelligence before acting, leading him to do something he didn’t have to do, but did anyway, without the fear of impeachment.