It is commendable that President Obama sought congressional approval to strike Syria instead of exercising discretionary power to declare war. Especially given that Congress often fights his initiatives. But if his action is merely a formality, and no matter the outcome he will strike Syria, then his attempt to deceive the nation into believing the strike was a united decision obliterates the initial accolades. Manipulating the government, even if well intended, is wrong because it is deceptive. The problem with Iraq is not being wrong about weapons of mass destruction, but that Americans believed they were deceived.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to execute all powers vested by the Constitution, which includes the President’s power to declare war. The War Powers Act requires the President to consult Congress before submitting armed forces into hostile situations. History, however, presents instances where Congress did not approve a presidential declaration of war or was not consulted prior to the President’s submission of armed forces. For example the Vietnam War, invading Grenada in 1983, and military action in Panama in 1989. Therefore in theory, the democratic government requires the President, Congress, and the people to agree and have a stake in declarations of war. In practice, however, the President can exercise his or her own best judgment.
The draft resolution to strike Syria outlines Syrian’s alleged violation of international law, using chemical weapons against its own people. It insufficiently explains the evidence that either supports Syrian’s direct use of chemical weapons, or why Assad’s assertion that rebels were the culprits is false. Additionally, it does not explain why waiting for the United Nations to review the evidence of chemical weapons before deciding whether to join U.S. efforts is inadequate. It does, however, make clear that President Obama’s goal is to ensure the U.S. acts as judge and executioner as it relates to international law violations.
President Obama’s reasoning for striking Syria may be irrelevant so long as he believes it to be America’s best interest. If democracy is voting on representatives to legislate and enforce our best interests as they see it, then whether Congress or Americans understand the reasoning for many government decisions, including war, is irrelevant. But if a democracy is voting on representatives to voice interests articulated by the American people, then understanding why his opinion is best and obtaining congressional approval ensures collective responsibility in accordance with the Constitution.