President Obama cannot conduct offensive military action in Syria without prior congressional approval, a group of legal scholars and former members of Congress says. Without specific congressional authorization, “any such use of force in Syria would be unlawful, contrary to the Constitution, and against the Framer’s commitment to self-government,” wrote members of The Constitution Project’s War Powers Committee in a letter delivered to the president and key members of Congress on July 23.
Last month, the Obama administration said Syria had crossed a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in an ongoing civil war. Some members of Congress have repeatedly called on the administration to step up its support of the rebels, including destruction of Syrian air fields and enforcing a “no-fly” zone.
However, unless Congress gives its prior approval, such actions would “violate both the rule of law and democratic values,” the signers of the letter said. The group cited an earlier report by The Constitution Project (TCP) that recommended improvements needed to restore the proper roles of all three branches of government in decisions about the use of force abroad. They noted the Constitution clearly gives “the representatives of the people in Congress the power to declare or authorize war and the President, after obtaining that express legislative decision, the power as Commander in Chief to direct our armed forces.”