Obama should respect Congress’ Syria decision

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been allegedly wreaking havoc on its own people, with some reports estimating over 110,000 people dead since the beginning of the Syrian people’s uprising nearly two years ago.

On August 21, 2013, the Obama administration claimed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons which eventually killed 1,429 people, including 426 children. And the governments of France and Germany have made assessments that came to similar conclusions.

I believe that Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons against its own people in a cowardly attempt to silence the voices of its opposition, and I believe action needs to be taken. I applaud Obama’s efforts to rally support and agree with the sentiment of my fellow columnist, Max Fisher, that the U.S. should intervene but not without the support of the international community.

Thankfully, in his duty to fulfill the office of the President of the United States, Obama has called on Congress to act as another voice of support. While Obama has yet to indicate what he’ll do if Congress votes “no,” I fear that he will take action anyway. This is my call on President Obama to respect Congress’ decision if it votes no, and to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” by not taking further military action on the issue.

In fourth grade, we were taught that the United States government is split up into three branches — the executive, legislative and judicial — and that each branch has checks and balances over the other. We were also taught that only Congress has the power to declare war and it is clearly outlined in Article 1; Section 8 of the United States Constitution.

There is a reason the power to declare war was given to Congress. The Founding Fathers knew they would be responsible for making big decisions in moments of crisis and understood that it’s important to refrain from knee-jerk reactions, especially in regards to war.

When war becomes a possibility, the reality of sending soldiers and having intense political debates become genuine concerns. That’s why the power to declare war was given to Congress. The legislative process is slow and deliberative and requires careful consideration.

Over the past century, that duty of Congress has been shed and the power of the president has grown substantially. The president of the United States, historically, has taken on the responsibility to decide himself when it’s appropriate to wage action with the U.S. Armed Forces. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see all the “wars” we’ve been in since World War II. Congress hasn’t officially declared war since then.

This whole issue brought me back to a book I read two summers ago, “Drift,” by Rachel Maddow, and she sums it up beautifully:

“…after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us — of dropping Congress from the equation altogether, of super-empowering the presidency with total war-making power and with secret new war-making resources that answer to no one but him . . . war-making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.”

The American society is now accustomed to perpetual warfare. It doesn’t faze us. There are no longer large-scale rallies or protests, and patriotism has taken on new meanings and outlets. We, as the American people, have lost control of deciding when we want to fight the fight. By superseding Congress, the representatives of the American people, we have lost a voice.

Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama has been strong and consistent in foreign policy and has taken a very hard-line stance when it comes to conflict abroad. While I believe that it’s important that something is done in Syria, I think it’s equally, if not more, important to abide to the rule of law set up by our Constitution. I think by expressing and showing constraint, Obama can restore the power and set a new precedent against unwarranted and illegal wars.

I believe Obama is right in attempting to garner the support of both the international community and the American people, but he is constitutionally bound to act upon the will of the people and not the interests of the military industrial complex.

What happens next is uncertain, but if Congress decides to vote no, then our Constitution will truly be put to the test. If Congress votes no and Obama defies its decision, that will be a reaffirmation of how far we’ve strayed away from the original words of our Founding Fathers.

Matt is a sophomore in LAS. He can be reached [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MatthewPasquini.