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Return of the Warrior King
By John Bonifaz
While President Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for military action in Syria is significant (and a victory for democracy), it is important to know what the White House has actually proposed that Congress pass. The proposed AUMF ("Authorization to Use Military Force") states:
"The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria..."
The operative language here -- "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" is identical to the language the Bush Administration presented to Congress in the resolution on Iraq.
President Obama's proposed AUMF would actually authorize nothing. Rather, like the resolution Congress passed in October 2002 on Iraq, this resolution, if passed, would mark an unconstitutional delegation to the President of the power to declare war. In other words, Congress would be saying: "We will let the President ultimately decide whether to take this military action." Here is the resolution Congress passed in October 2002:
"The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to 1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and 2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."
Many Members of Congress opposed that resolution as unconstitutional. Senator Patrick Leahy said this in his Senate floor speech in 2002:
"This resolution, like others before it, does not declare anything. It tells the President: 'Why don't you decide; we are not going to.' This resolution, when you get through the pages of whereas clauses, is nothing more than a blank check…When I came to the Senate, there were a lot of Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who had voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Every single Senator who ever discussed it with me said what a mistake it was to write that kind of blank check on the assurance that we would continue to watch what went on…Let us not make that mistake again."
Senator Patrick Leahy and others who cited this as the basis for voting no the last time should be confronted with this argument again here.