Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Constitutional Crisis that Syria could create

So the situation with regards to Syria is this-the president has committed himself to military action. Bowing to political pressure, he will ask for Congress' permission first, but seems likely to act with or without Congressional approval.  Traditional coalitions of Republicans vs Democrats, anti-war vs pro-intervention have been fractured, and both sides are now launching a full court pressure to sway the vote next week.

Here's what hasn't been widely discussed-a Congressional vote against military action in Syria could create a Constitutional crisis in the United States military that will be a lose-lose scenario for every American. (H/T to Donald Sensing for putting the dots together)

The scenario is this; Congress votes against the use of military force in Syria by a clear margin.  President Obama, his reputation on the line, repeats his statement from last week, saying that he has the authority to direct the military to attack a foreign threat, regardless of what Congress decides.  President Obama gives the order for US commanders in the Middle East and Mediterranean Sea to launch the attack.

What does a 3 or 4 star general or admiral do? We take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, not to the president.  We swear to follow the orders of the commander in chief, but Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically states that we are duty bound to follow only lawful orders.  If senior military commanders decided the order to attack was illegal without Congress' permission, they would have to refuse to carry out their orders, which should cause every American to shudder.

It's tempting for some conservatives to see any defeat for the president as a good thing.  But as Bill Kristol pointed out over the weekend referring to a post at First Things, a loss for an American president on the world stage is a loss for America.  US generals refusing to carry out strike orders in Syria would be a tremendous loss for American credibility, and would open the question of soldiers questioning orders.  Unlike the one or two at a time military war protesters or supposed conscientious objectors for Iraq and Afghanistan, generals and admirals command thousands of men and women. Their refusal to carry out an order from the president would bring chaos into the military, be destructive to morale, and put junior officers in a position of having to decide whether to follow their immediate commanders, or someone higher up the chain.

Whether or not the US should use military force in Syria is likely a generation defining question; a turning point in American history that will be written about in our history books decades from now.  But conservatives need to understand that there are consequences no matter what decision Congress come to.  In short-we are in a terrible situation, and there is no good option, only options that are less bad than others.


Walter Hudson said...

While I understand and find no fault with this analysis. I'm not quite picking up on any suggested action. Are you saying that conservatives should support congressional approval in order to avoid a constitutional crisis? Isn't that a bit like blaming the victim? After all, it would be the president triggering said crisis, not the Congress or the People.

Dave Thul said...

My point Walter, is that there are consequences to either choice. If the vote were going to fail by a few votes, I do think it would be better for a Republican to vote in favor to avoid having the President violate the Constitution so blatantly.

If the vote comes out how it appears now, dramatically against military action, then we have to hope that it is enough to keep President Obama from attacking anyways.

RonF said...

It would be better for a military officer to follow the President's order. But the whole concept of "We need to support the President in order for America to maintain America's credibility" fails on two points:

1) We don't have any credibility to save. We lost it somewhere around half-way through Obama's first term. Tell me that Putin, China or anyone else respects a word Obama says.
2) So we should vote to kill people to save America's face? It's come to that?

Here's what we need to have happen. Congress votes Obama down. Obama attacks anyway. Congress impeaches Obama because he's exceeded his authority, going against the express will of the Congress. Note that the War Powers Act requires either Congressional approval of some sort OR a direct threat to U.S. territory or forces, which don't exist here. Note that I'm not talking about taking him to court for violation of the War Powers Act, just that it shows the intent. There's no appeal from impeachment and conviction, and he can still be tried for violating the War Powers Act after he's impeached, convicted and removed from office.

Dave Thul said...

you make some great points, and I can't really disagree, because there doesn't seem to be a clear black and white line. the president has gotten us into a situation where every option is bad.

On your point about impeachment, I'd love to agree but I just don't see it happening. If America couldn't be roused to action after Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal, and Benghazi (all of which affected actual Americans) then I don't see how they would get roused over an attack in a foreign country.

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