President Barack Obama has threatened gratuitous, unilateral, offensive military action against Syria, which would compound the already grisly Syrian war casualties. His juvenile justification is national prestige. The threatened military action confronts Congress and the American people with a momentous choice: either to repudiate the President in favor of the Constitution and a Republic; or, to acquiesce in one-branch government, international lawlessness, and self-ruination in imitation of all previous Empires.
The Constitution's architects were preoccupied with institutional barriers to warfare for good reason. In times of war, the law is silent. War makes legal what is customarily murder. Instruments of arbitrary power initially employed against foreign danger routinely return to crush freedom at home. War aggrandizes executive authority and disarms the separation of powers--the cornerstone of liberty. James Madison, father of the Constitution, sermonized:
"War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast, ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
The Founding Fathers were keenly alert to the lessons of history and the chronic warfare that fueled the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Author Joseph Schumpeter observed about Rome:
"There was no corner of the world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were of Rome's allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest--then it was the national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality."
Accordingly, Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution endows Congress as opposed to the President with exclusive power to authorize offensive use of the military. In contrast to the Executive, the Legislative Branch has no incentive to contrive excuses for military conflict. The constitutional understanding that only Congress could authorize war was universal. It was explicit in the writings of Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Supreme Court Justices James Wilson and William Patterson.
Before his election in 2008, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vociferated against the constitutionality of unilateral presidential wars.
President Obama lacks constitutional authority unilaterally to employ military force against Syria. In addition, such military action would be criminal under international law.
The post-World War II Nuremburg tribunal championed by the United States established the principle that war not justified by self-defense, i.e., a response to an actual or imminent attack, constitutes the crime of aggression. Syria has neither attacked the United States nor threatens to do so. United States military action against Syria to maintain national prestige or otherwise would be a war crime. Among other things, the crime of aggression is defined in the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court as follows: "Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another state." Thus, Congress should withhold authorization for President Obama to employ military force against Syria, and should prohibit the expenditure of any funds of the United States for that purpose.
The United States has no moral obligation to seek alleviation of Syria's self-inflicted dystopia. We neither created nor inflamed the strife. Syrians have no allegiance to the United States. They pay us no taxes. They are not governed by our laws. The sole purpose of the United States Government is to safeguard the liberty of American citizens to pursue their ambitions and to chart their destinies. It is not empowered to coerce us into playing putative Good Samaritan abroad to gratify the President's moral conscience or chesty quest to bestride the globe like a colossus.
Any other conclusion would invite endless wars and a pernicious doctrine of "might- makes-right." Internal repression and internecine conflict pervade the world. If the United States attacks Syria over human rights atrocities, it would set a precedent that would lie around like a loaded weapon ready for use by Russia to attack Saudi Arabia, China to attack Vietnam, Iran to attack Bahrain or Iraq, ad infinitum.
President Obama's unilateral war to overthrow Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi usurped the war powers of Congress and constituted an impeachable offense against the Constitution under Article II, section 4. Congress should pass a resolution warning the President that a second edition of the Libya usurpation by offensive use of the military against Syria without congressional authorization will result in his impeachment by the House of Representatives, conviction by the Senate, and removal from office for flouting the Constitution's separation of powers.
Depend upon it. Military action against Syria will not stop there. Like Hercules attacking the Hydra, new "humanitarian" military justifications to kill in the Middle East, Africa, or South Asia will be concocted. Worldwide resentment will be further inflamed. The United States will be less safe.
Billions for self-defense, but not one cent for Empire, should be the national security creed of the United States. It was the spirit that gave birth to the American Republic, and justified the sacrifices at Valley Forge. We need to honor the foreign policy of the United States mandated by the Constitution as elaborated in then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams' July 4, 1821 Address to Congress:
"[She] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy...
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own...she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom...
She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit...
[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty."
*Bruce Fein is Founder and President of the newly formed National Commission on Intelligence Misuse and Foreign Wars in Washington, DC and author of American Empire Before The Fall.