American Elephants


Constitution? That Doesn’t Apply To Us! by The Elephant's Child

There was a very weird meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee this last week. The committee was questioning Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Secretary Panetta repeatedly stated that the U.S. needed “permission” from international bodies and organizations as a legal basis for using military force. He cited NATO support or a United Nations Security Council resolution as an example of such “legal basis” for action.

As the revolt in Syria heats up with talk of U.S. intervention, Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions asked Secretary Panetta:

We spend our time worrying about the U.N., the Arab League, NATO, and too little time, my opinion, worrying about the elected representatives of the United States. As you go forward, will you consult with the United States Congress?

Seems like a straightforward question, but he never got an answer. Obama’s intervention in Libya was extremely questionable. Instead Panetta rambled weirdly about getting “permission” from international organizations before engaging the U.S. Military abroad:

You know, our goal would be to seek international permission. And we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this, whether or not we would want to get permission from Congress.

Sessions asked “So you are saying NATO would give you a legal basis and an ad hoc coalition of nations would provide a legal basis?”

Let me for the record be clear again Senator so there is no misunderstanding. When it comes to the national defense of this country, the President of the United States has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country and we will. If it comes to an operation where we are trying to build a coalition of Nations to work together to go in and operate as we did in Libya or Bosnia, for that matter Afghanistan, we want to do it with permissions either by NATO or by the international community.

Sessions was clearly dumbfounded, reminding him that he needed to worry about getting legal authority from Congress as the U.S. Constitution requires before engaging in foreign hostilities. That’s a well-known tenet of the Constitution — that only Congress can declare war. It was observed by President Bush as he sought and got Congress’ OK before the last Iraq War, and its breach was fuel for the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal that dogged the Reagan administration. Panetta repeated the rambling response about international permission.

The Pentagon tried on Thursday  to clarify the remarks made by Secretary Panetta when he told a Senate committee that the U.S. military was seeking “permission” from a foreign organization to intervene in Syria. The official said Panetta was “re-emphasizing the need for an international mandate.  We are not ceding U.S. decision-making authority to some foreign body.”

Neither Panetta nor the Pentagon official seemed to grasp that the president cannot just charge off and commit the armed forces of the United States without consulting with Congress. There does not need to be a formal declaration of war, contrary to the squawks of many liberals during the Bush administration, but the president must consult with Congress and get their assent. It is a startling look into the mindset of this administration.


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