Eric Posner on Obama, Congress, and Syria

Obama Is Only Making His War Powers Mightier
Eric Posner
September 3, 2013

President Obama’s surprise announcement that he will ask Congress for approval of a military attack on Syria is being hailed as a vindication of the rule of law and a revival of the central role of Congress in war-making, even by critics. But all of this is wrong. Far from breaking new legal ground, President Obama has reaffirmed the primacy of the executive in matters of war and peace. The war powers of the presidency remain as mighty as ever.

It would have been different if the president had announced that only Congress can authorize the use of military force, as dictated by the Constitution, which gives Congress alone the power to declare war. That would have been worthy of notice, a reversal of the ascendance of executive power over Congress. But the president said no such thing. Hesaid: “I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.” Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that the president “has the right to do that”—launch a military strike—“no matter what Congress does.”

Thus, the president believes that the law gives him the option to seek a congressional yes or to act on his own. He does not believe that he is bound to do the first. He has merely stated the law as countless other presidents and their lawyers have described it before him.

Eric Posner