The war hawks were circling the White House after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians on August 21. As pressure mounted on President Obama to make good on his threat that using chemical weapons would cross a red line and invite a military strike, Congressional Social Work Caucus Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) urged President Obama to seek authorization from Congress before he launched an attack. Joined by 53 of her colleagues in the House of Representatives, they sent a letter to the President asking him to give Congress an opportunity to debate the specifics and vote on authorization for military action.
With the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon less than two weeks away, polls revealed war weary Americans are not anxious to be drawn into another military conflict overseas with 60 percent of those polled against military action and only 9 percent supporting a military response. Back in 2001, there was near unanimous support for military retaliation for the terrorist attacks with Rep. Barbara Lee casting the lone vote in the House against giving authorization to President George Bush to use military action. Rep. Lee received threats on her life for that vote and had to be protected by the Capitol Police.
As a social worker, I am encouraged by Rep. Lee’s principled leadership. War should be avoided whenever possible. It brings death, destruction and disruption to the innocent as well as the perpetrators. Ultimately when soldiers are sent into the battlefield, many young lives are sacrificed. Unfortunately, evil does exist in the world and wars are sometimes necessary. However, someone has to slow the rush to war in situations where emotions are pushing for military actions.
Launching a military strike against Assad is a tough call for President Obama. There are so many variables—known and unknown—to consider. What is the desired outcome from launching an attack? Will attacking Syria deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future? How far are we prepared to go to support the ultimate removal of Assad? Having backed Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, can we be certain that those who replace Assad will not be future enemies? What is the possibility of further escalation and spill over into other parts of the Middle East? These are daunting questions that must be considered. Involving Congress allows debate on some of these issues.
There is considerable ambiguity about the President’s authority to engage in military action without the consent of Congress. While the Constitution confers on Congress the right to declare war, as Commander in Chief of the military, the president has the authority to deploy the military without the consent of Congress. Congress tried to settle this with the War Powers Resolution which passed in 1973 over the veto of President Richard Nixon. However, President Ronald Reagan sent troops into Grenada without Congressional authorization and President Bill Clinton ordered strikes in Bosnia without the consent of Congress.
By Rep. Barbara Lee stepping up and calling for Congressional involvement along with Rep. John Boehner and Republicans, President Obama gets some cover on his decisions about Assad and Syria. The American public gets to hear the pros and consequences of military action. With his apparent use of chemical weapons, Assad ventured into infamy. What it will cost him remains to be seen.
Written by Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr.
President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy
The post Rep. Barbara Lee Leads Effort to Slow Rush to War appeared first on Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy and has been syndicated with permission of the author.
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