Editorial: Presidential intervention in foreign affairs might not have intended result
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 23:10
Warfare no longer plays out in terms of the formalistic conflict of the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, in which armies and generals matched wits, strength and tactics on vast battlefields. As we have seen in the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the Syrian Civil War of 2012, combatants in modern warfare often do not wear uniforms, are not operating under orders from a commanding military officer and are not easily distinguishable from the civilian population. The apocalyptic scenes of destruction of Syrian cities like Homs or Daraa are indicative of ruthless, urban guerrilla warfare that is not bound by military etiquette or conventions of human rights or international law. Thus when presidential candidate Mitt Romney urges an escalation of American involvement in the Syrian civil war, we as Americans must be concerned not only for the future of our foreign and military policy but also for the increasingly unchecked ability of the President to insert American power into complex and perilous foreign embroilments.
The Constitution requires that Congress give its authorization to make a declaration of war. By this standard, our last official war was declared in 1941, though Congress authorized the use of military force in Vietnam and other subsequent conflicts. But in order to intervene in the Libyan civil war last year, President Obama bypassed the Congress, the Constitution and the law entirely. Part of the justification offered was that an “intervention” is not a “war” – but the War Powers Resolution prohibits the foreign commitment of the U.S. armed forces for more than 60 days regardless, while US forces were engaged in Libya for more than six months. The Libyan intervention thus proceeded only at the whim of the President. Now, as presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposes to arm Syrian rebel groups in their fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, we need to call into question whether the possibility of a large-scale destabilization of the Middle East caused by the expansion of the Syrian civil war might, during a Romney or Obama presidency, invite another military intervention. The semantic boundaries separating “war,” ”conflict” and “intervention” are so ill-defined and the justifications for military action so easily waived by the executive that we must expect to be drawn into more of these nebulous foreign engagements.