Obama’s proposal on Syria allows more than limited attack

WASHINGTON – While President Barack Obama says he wants only a limited air attack on Syria, his proposed authorization of force would empower him to do much more than that. Congress is likely to impose tighter reins, as lawmakers have learned that presidents are prone to expand powers once they are granted.

The substantive part of Obama’s proposed authorization of the use of military force, conveyed to congressional leaders over the weekend, contains 172 words. That’s significantly longer than either the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War or the 2001 resolution authorizing retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, two measures that later became notorious for how aggressively presidents used them.

The proposed resolution would give Obama approval to use the military 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.” Specifically, the president could act to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of the weapons or to “protect the United States and its allies and partners” from the weapons.”

Tellingly, University of Texas Law School Professor Robert Chesney said in an interview, Obama’s proposed authorization did not include an end date. Chesney suggested that “if the administration is serious about wanting to act in such a truly narrow, time-limited way,” then a sunset measure could be useful.

“These details may not matter much if all the president intends is a modest shot across the bow, as he suggested a few days ago,” Ilya Somin, a George Mason University law professor, said Sunday. “But they could be significant if U.S. military intervention goes beyond that – including if it ends up expanding farther than the president may have originally intended.”

Publicly, Obama has said that “we would not put boots on the ground.” His proposed authorization, though, would not limit the kinds of military forces that could be used. It also does not specify the forces against which force can be used.

“It would likely allow him to use force against Syrian rebels as well as the Assad regime, if it seems possible that the former have obtained chemical weapons or are likely to do so,” Somin said.

Obama’s proposed authorization would also allow military action to stop the “transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors” of the designated weapons. This includes actions involving weapons transfers “within, to or from Syria,” which could extend authority to act well outside Syria.

If it passed the House and Senate, the authorization would meet the domestic U.S. requirements of the War Powers Resolution, and give the Obama administration some political cover. It would not, however, necessarily address international legal requirements.

“Unfortunately, the president’s draft (authorization) states a violation of international law in every line,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor. “Resort to military force is not permitted to punish the use of banned weapons; to address arms proliferation, or to respond to vague threats to the United States.”

National self-defense or actions explicitly authorized by the United Nations’ Security Council are the only two kinds of military action acceptable under international law, O’Connell said.

Stymied by Russia and China, the United States has not been able to secure approval from the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Unlike the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, in which the United States led a 78-day bombing campaign, the Obama administration has not received a NATO authorization for action against Syria, either.

When political bodies do provide military authorizations, the resulting actions can grow beyond what some may have originally contemplated.

In March 2011, for instance, the U.N. Security Council authorized a “no-fly zone” in Libya and gave a go-ahead for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. NATO forces, including U.S. warplanes, ultimately reported flying more than 26,000 missions. The NATO air attack destroyed or damaged about 6,000 military targets, with several European country leaders pressing the alliance to act more aggressively toward Libyan government forces.

The congressional authorization of military action after the 9/11 attacks has been used even more aggressively.

The measure authorized “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons (the president) determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

More in Local News

These little piggies stay home

Norman, who was spotted last week in Everett, is part of a trio kept as pets by the “pig whisperer.”

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Mill Creek’s Donna Michelson ready to retire at year’s end

The city’s longest-serving council member says she has every intention of staying involved.

Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital accepting adolescent patients

The facility is the first mental heallth unit in the county to offer in-patient services for children.

Within an hour, 2 planes crash-land at Paine Field

One simply landed hard and went off the end of a runway. Another crash involved unextended landing gear.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Teen murder suspect captured — then escapes and is recaptured

The 16-year-old is one of at least three young suspects in the shooting death of an Everett woman.

Most Read