WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama had little trouble convincing Congress -- even Republicans who usually fight tooth and nail against his policies -- to go along with his plan to arm Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants. He has also encountered little resistance to his campaign of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with leaders from both parties praising his course of action.
But some of the silence is due to the fact that in 2012, Congress lost its loudest anti-war voice: Dennis Kucinich. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Kucinich was incredulous that Congress would allow the president to essentially go to war without insisting on a vote to authorize it.
"We have a constitutional crisis right now," he said. "Congress is failing to hold the administration accountable and failing to insist under its prerogative under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says that only Congress has the authority to take this country from a position of peace to a position of war."
Congress voted last week to approve Obama's request to aid the Syrian rebels. Just 22 senators, 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, voted against it. In the House of Representatives, there were 156 "no" votes -- 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans.
"No court is going to protect Congress' right under Article I, Section 8 once Congress funds the war," Kucinich said. "The vote to fund the war was tantamount to a vote to authorize the war."
On Tuesday, the U.S. began bombing Islamic State sites in Syria with a coalition of five Arab partners; it has been striking targeted sites in Iraq since August. As of Wednesday, the U.S. military had conducted 198 airstrikes in Iraq and 20 airstrikes in Syria targeting the terrorist group.
Congress left for recess without authorizing this new campaign. "The fact that there wasn't a vote on Syria -- and Congress had time to vote -- as to whether or not to cross an international boundary and go to war, that was absolutely contrary to the Constitution of the United States," Kucinich said.
The Obama administration has insisted the president has the authority to carry out the airstrikes under the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force. The first one gave the president the authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." The second addressed the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Critics have said that these authorizations are outdated and are not sufficient to justify the current airstrikes, a point Obama has made himself in the past. Although a few lawmakers have been pushing for reauthorization and have criticized their colleagues for leaving town, there was an overwhelming sense of calm Tuesday on Capitol Hill after news of the airstrikes in Syria.
Indeed, one top House Democratic aide suggested to The Huffington Post that the tenor of the debate has changed given the absence of the fiery Democratic congressman from Ohio.
“Are you missing Dennis Kucinich?” the aide joked, when asked where the skepticism is on the new military action.
While Kucinich became known for his outspoken criticism of former President George W. Bush's administration, he has also criticized his own party for what he sees as its desire to appear strong on national security.
"The same neoconservative ideology that propelled America into war in 2002 is still alive and well in Washington," Kucinich told HuffPost. "It doesn't seem to matter whether there's a Democrat or a Republican in the White House."
He said that in 2004 -- in a story he's never shared publicly -- Democratic officials forced him to change his speech at the party's convention. He had just ended his presidential run and decided to endorse then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), now the secretary of state.
"They did not like the speech that I had written because most of it was about attacking the war," he said. "I didn't want to be the guy who ruined John Kerry's nomination, so I toned it down a little bit, so as not to be incendiary when they were trying to reclaim the mantle as a strong military-type leader. And you know what happened? He got swift-boated anyway."
Kucinich stressed that he didn't believe Kerry had been aware of the incident. Tad Devine, who served as a senior adviser to Kerry's presidential campaign, said he didn't remember if the campaign changed Kucinich's speech but that it could have happened.
"I don't doubt that we did," Devine said. "That would make perfect sense."
"It reflects the structure of the party itself. It reflects the undercurrent of support for the war and on the fact that Democrats were afraid of being weak on national security," Kucinich said of the incident.
Kucinich also recalled that after the war in Iraq started to go south, some members of the Democratic Party who had voted to go to war came up to him and privately said they regretted the decision.
"Wouldn't you know it? Some of these same people ended up sending more arms to Syria [last week]," he lamented.
Obama went before the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday and argued before the international community in favor of taking action against the Islamic State. So far, more than 40 countries have spoken in support of the United States' efforts.
"There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil," Obama said. "The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death."
Still, Kucinich's message continues to ring true with some faithful supporters. During his interview with HuffPost, he was interrupted by a man who told him, "You should have been president."
The former congressman recently launched a group called "Campaign Nonviolence," which bills itself as a "movement to build a culture of peace through the practice of active nonviolence." Next month, he will travel to Iowa, California and Colorado to spread his message.
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