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Obama Does Not Have Authority To Bomb Syria Without Congressional Approval

Though President Obama made a number of absurd and unsupported claims in his address on ISIS, the one that already launched a thousands tweets is his assertion that he had the authority to bomb Syria without seeking congressional approval. In Obama’s distorted view of the constitution he can launch a military campaign against any country in the world with the justification that Al Qaeda – or some group he tries to tie to Al Qaeda like ISIS – operates within it. It is such an expansive view of the imperial presidency that not even George W. Bush and supporters were willing to claim it (at least publicly).

Obama does not have the authority to bomb Syria without Congress. Though Obama Administration officials such as John Kerry have claimed this is simply a “counter-terrorism operation, “ make no mistake, bombing another country is an act of war and acts of war require congressional approval. Of course, the Obama Administration has a few legal tricks to avoid this being “war” at all or at least one they do not already, somehow, have authorization for.

The administration has said since August that air strikes in Syria were justified under his constitutional power alone. But yesterday it switched course and maintained that Congress had authorized the 2014 campaign against the Islamic State in the 2001 law that President George W. Bush sought to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The administration’s new approach allows it to claim that it is acting with congressional approval. It also lets it avoid the strictures of the War Powers Resolution because that law does not apply to wars approved by Congress.

Seriously? It’s 2014, it’s Syria not Afghanistan, and ISIS is not Al Qaeda. Applying the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force – an act President Obama once advocated repealing – to the present conflict with ISIS in Syria and Iraq is an attack on the rule of law and common sense. It is ham-handed tyranny.

An authorization passed near 13 years ago for a different enemy in a different conflict can not be applied to a new enemy in a new conflict. Sorry Mr. President you have to go to Congress no matter how annoying and frustrating it is to deal with them. In fact, having to go through the congressional gauntlet is kind of the point because the system was setup – in theory – to prevent rash military action. I know, I know.

Of course, Congress is not collectively eager to take this on. Many members of Congress do not want to have to vote on a military campaign in Syria given the political fallout from the Iraq War authorization. Nonetheless, that is their job under the law – if they can not perform their legal duties they should resign from office not resign themselves to letting the president do whatever he wants however he wants with the US armed forces.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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