Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Should any president be able to send U.S. forces into combat abroad without the consent of Congress? Our constitution says no. But this Congress refuses even to hold hearings on whether Barack Obama should be authorized to deploy large forces into Iraq and Syria to crush ISIS terrorist strongholds.

Virginia's senator, Tim Kaine, tried unsuccessfully over several years to generate public discussion and congressional hearings on the war powers issue, but has stimulated no action. His frustration was obvious two weeks ago when the Daily Progress carried a story titled, "Kaine madder than ever on authorization of force."

Kaine says both political parties are at fault for not making a decision on whether Obama should escalate the war against ISIS. In contrast, he cites the British parliament's debate and vote to authorize Prime Minister David Cameron to join the air against ISIS in Syria and berates his colleagues for their timidity: "They want to criticize the president, but if they can avoid voting to authorize or stop him, they can feel completely scot-free, and they're not going to be held accountable." Not being held accountable is a fine description of this Congress.

What's the reason for this timidity? The short answer is Iraq, 2002. That's when most senators, including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, voted yes, to authorize George W. Bush to use U.S. troops to oust Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The ensuing long, costly, and failed occupation of Iraq caused most Americans and members of Congress to avoid such future blunders.

In 1973 a stronger, bolder Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, over Richard Nixon's veto, which limited a president's ability to use the military forces in combat beyond 60 days, unless Congress gave him authority to continue. Since then, most presidents accepted this limitation on their powers. But Bill Clinton ignored The War Powers Resolution in 1999 when he used air power to bomb Serbia for 77 days during the Kosovo war. Today, Barack Obama is escalating U.S. military involvement in Syria without congressional action.

Some hard-line senators and congressmen and several Republican presidential candidates say Obama has no strategy for defeating ISIS and want him to adopt a "more robust policy," using U.S. troops. Some say "we should declare a no-fly zone" in Syria; and one presidential candidate wants to "carpet bomb" Iraqi and Syrian cities held by ISIS. A few want the president to send up to 20,000 ground troops to clean out ISIS areas in Syria and Iraq.

None of them, however, asked for Congress to debate and vote on their war proposals: they want the president unilaterally to escalate the war. Only Senator Tim Kaine and his colleague, Senator Jeff Flake, show courage in demanding that Congress play its constitutional role to authorize a president to wage war.

The reason is clear: the American public isn't ready to support action that produces casualties. Military experts say a no-fly zone and a larger bombing campaign against ISIS territory cannot be successful without large numbers of ground troops. Obama's view is that Arab countries must provide most of the ground forces and the allies will supply the advisers and air power.

A troubling longer-term question is this: If Congress fails to authorize the president to use greater force\in the Middle East and he escalates the war, does this set a precedent that future presidents will use to make war in any part of the globe, without the consent of Congress?

In my view, every presidential candidate should be asked on TV: do you think that as president you should be constrained by Congress in sending U.S. forces into combat? If the answer is no, we are on the road to an imperial presidency.

File last modified on Tuesday, 28-DEC-2015 10:54 AM EST

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