As the tired gears of War began inevitably turning towards U.S. military intervention in Syria this week, other, considerably more neglected gears of Reasonable Deliberation and Reverence For The Constitution also kicked into motion. The international community and American lawmakers are urging President Obama to reconsider his plan to punish Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his people.
While the U.N. continues gathering evidence of the alleged chemical strike, the U.S.'s usual cohorts on matters of international police efforts are sending signals of caution.
On Monday France's foreign minister was quoted as saying, “The only option I do not envisage is to do nothing." Now French President François Hollande has considerably toned down the urgency: “We will only manage this if the international community can put a temporary stop to this escalation in violence, of which the chemical attack is just one example."
British authorities have released an "unusual" public report stating that while Assad almost certainly used chemical weapons against his people, “There is no obvious political or military trigger for regime use of C.W. on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence in Syria of the U.N. investigation team.”
A U.N. envoy stated that "international law is clear": the U.N. Security Council must approve the use of force.
President Obama could, of course, go it alone. But that would also be in violation of Congress's exclusive authority to make War. Speaker of the House John Boehner raised this issue in a letter to the president, as did a committee of members of Congress and the War Powers Committee of the Constitution Project, as did Republican Congressman Scott Rigell, whose district in Virginia holds one of the highest percentages of citizens who are in the armed forces in the country.
The American people are against military intervention in Syria.
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.
In an interview with PBS on Tuesday, President Obama explained the reasoning behind bombing Syria to punish Assad.
I have not made a decision, but I think it’s important that if, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again. And that doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn’t, obviously end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria.
Tomahawk missiles = "Better not do it again" and not much more.
But Assad might do it again anyway. Bombing Syria could embolden him and his allies, including Iran. Or make him more desperate. Or it could kill innocent people. It will almost certainly carry unintended consequences.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Christopher Hill, a former diplomat who was sent to Kosovo in 1999, said he supports military intervention. But:
The problem is that people expect when U.S. military assets are deployed that we will do so until the regime goes away. The problem with Syria is that it’s bombing in the absence of a political plan. I think we’re opening a big door. Every time you drop bombs on something, you can’t entirely predict the results.
The U.N.'s report on Assad's use of chemical weapons will be delivered to the Secretary General on Saturday. Maybe we'll be at war (with a new country) by then.