Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Russia to the Rescue?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Russia to the Rescue?

Article excerpt

Holding Back the Dogs of War

The truly remarkable-I believe historic-letter from Russia's President Vladimir Putin to the American people published by The New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013 hopefully will lead President Barack Obama to hold back the dogs of war. He must abandon all thoughts of committing acts of war against the government of Syria. No act of war, no matter how small in contrast with other possible measures, should ever be considered as free of possible bad consequences. One missile of modest range and destructive power could lead to a wide and costly conflict.

Putin's powerful message argues for the employment of world law and diplomacy to lead the United States and the Middle East to abandon war measures now underway and under consideration. It comes at a time when neither Obama nor congressional leaders seem to realize the United States Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973 strip the president of legal authority to fire even a small missile into Syria unless he receives formal approval from Congress, or unless there is a sudden attack or imminent threat from Syria to American territory, citizens, diplomats or armed forces.

Obama cannot cite the present situation as such an emergency, given his public statement that members of Congress need not act until the completion of their scheduled vacation. He has said that his proposal is "not time sensitive." If Congress fails to approve a resolution approving acts of war against Syria, he cannot legally order any military assault into Syria.

On several recent occasions the president and administration officials have mentioned a "60-day" period during which he has authority to act without approval of Congress. Such authority does not exist. It is a misreading of a provision of the War Powers Act that provides only Congress with oversight constraints on executive actions. Section 5(b) of the War Powers Act establishes limits of 60 or 90 days on acts of the president in such emergencies. Section 8(d) ordains, "Nothing in this Joint Resolution (1) is intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the president or of the provision of existing treaties; or (2) shall be construed as granting any authority to the president with respect to the introduction of the United States Armed Forces into hostilities or situations wherein involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, which authority he would not have had in the absence of this Joint Resolution. …

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