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Obama: You Cannot Start a War by Yourself

Ralph Nader

Dear President Obama:

Before you decide to attack Syria, yet another Arab or Islamic country that does not threaten U.S. security, there are certain constitutional “niceties” that you should observe. Chronically violating the Constitution overturns the rule of law and can produce costly blowbacks.

On August 28, you stated that bombing Syria “is not about war, it’s about accountability,” obviously referring to the brutal gassing of neighborhoods outside of Damascus. What about your accountability to receive authorization from Congress which, under Article 1, Section 8, has the sole and exclusive power to declare war? Spare Americans the casuistry of your lawyers who “legalized” your war on Libya, with no declaration, authorization or appropriation of funds from Congress, and pushed the envelope of the “unitary presidency” beyond the unlawful and brazen extremes advocated by George W. Bush and his lawyers.

Nearly 200 members of both parties of Congress – now on its August recess – demanded there be no attack on Syria without Congressional authorization. These signers have so far included 72 Democrats. Merely secretly consulting with some lawmakers on the Intelligence Committees does not substitute for formal Congressional authorization. The framers of our Constitution – whatever their other differences – were unanimous in writing Article 1, Section 8, so that no president could go to war on his own. To do so, as you have already done in the past, would be a major impeachable offense.

The media have reported that your lawyers are searching for legal justification for Tomahawk Missiling Syria. They need look no more – the Constitution clearly rests the power to engage in war with Congress and Congress only. You cannot start another war! You cannot continue to be the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner anywhere, and at any time.

You may think the foregoing cautious and mere formalities. But the framers held the war-making power in Congress for another reason than just thwarting a latter-day King George III tyranny. They wanted a deliberative open process to avoid reckless presidential decisions that were bad for our country and produced entanglements with warring foreign nations. Remember George Washington’s farewell address on this point – truer today than in his day.

Remember what the nearly 200 members of Congress said to you – “engaging our military in Syria with no direct threat to the United States and without prior Congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.” Congressional deliberations would ask the following questions in the open:

  1. Assuming the veracity of the regime as the cause, how could a U.S. attack not make a horrible situation even more horrible, both inside Syria and in the volatile region?

     
  2. Why are so many in the U.S. military privately opposed to such an action – though they defer to civilian authority? Could it be due to the lack of any strategic purpose and the violent plethora of uncontrollable consequences? See the oppositional stands, reported in the August 30th Washington Post, “from captains to a four-star general.”

     
  3. How are you going to avoid the kind of awful continual civilian casualties that were produced in the first Iraq war in 1991? U.S. bombings broke chemical warfare containers and led to sickness (called the Gulf War Syndrome) for tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers – many continue to suffer to this day.

     
  4. How are you going to deal with the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East and at least 70 percent of Americans here who are opposed to you bombing Syria? Do you think that lack of domestic public support and even deeper hatred abroad are inconsequential? Your empire mentality seems to say yes.

One would think that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), of all people, who just sent you a detailed letter of inquiry and caution, citing Congressional authority, should give you pause. Increasingly, you are coming across, even to your hardcore political supporters, as impulsively aggressive, too quick to order killing operations and too slow to contemplate waging of peace.

The Syrian civil war – riven by fighting rebel factions, sectarian revenge cycles, outside arms suppliers and provocations, and a spreading al-Qaeda force fighting the dictatorial Assad regime – can only get worse following a violent attack by your Administration.

Listen to Hans Blix, the former United Nations head of the weapons inspection team in Iraq during 2002-2003 that was aborted by George W. Bush’s criminal invasion that led to the continuing loss of over a million Iraqis, many more injuries, five thousand U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of injured Americans.

Mr. Blix, former Swedish minister for foreign affairs, urges an international peace conference under the UN Security Council’s auspices attended by all governments supporting the various sides in Syria’s civil war. Since all fighters in Syria are receiving their weapons from outside nations, these “supplier countries have leverage,” Blix writes, to support the demand “that their clients accept a ceasefire – or risk losing further support.”

Achieving this goal will require strong leadership. While it is difficult for you to move from waging war to waging peace, history documents that the latter brings better outcomes and forestalls worse slaughter and blowbacks that security experts fear could reach our country.

When your own military believes you are moving into dangerous terrain and possible points of no return, you’d better start to rethink. You’d better reread the warnings in the measured memoranda given to you by Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, and the chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

More publically, retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who directed operations for the Joint Chiefs during the run-up to the Iraq war, told the Washington Post: “There’s a broad naiveté in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve.” He said that many of his fellow officers share his views.

General Newbold’s words seem like a rebuke not just to the Bush Neocons (pro-Vietnam war, draft dodgers) who pushed the Iraq invasion, but also to you and your immediate circle of hawkish civilian advisors.

All weapons of violence – chemical, biological, nuclear, drones, conventional munitions – are used to destroy lives and habitats. The fact that using some weapons constitutes international war crimes per se is hardly consoling to the victims of other mass weapons systems.

Aggressive arms controls should be the priority of the leading superpower in the world. Why haven’t you made U.S. ratification of the small arms, the landmines, and the cluster munitions treaties, adhered to by most nations, a priority?

Before you violently embroil our country into yet another Mid-East country’s tragic turmoil, visit the government supported U.S. Institute of Peace for intensive tutorials. Then read again Article 1, Section 8, and its originating history, which says that going to war is not your decision but the exclusive decision of the Congress. That may help you accept the imperative of your moral and legal accountability.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader


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Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

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