TAMPA, August 30, 2013 – Today, the British Parliament is debating the U.K.’s response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government against rebels and civilians.
This prompted Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to tweet a picture juxtaposing the ongoing debate in Parliament with the empty U.S. Congress building.
Cruz and others have expressed the opinion that President Obama cannot take military action against Syria without consulting Congress first.
They’re wrong. Congress doesn’t have the power to start a war with Syria, either, under present circumstances.
Most people misunderstand the declaration of war power as “permission” to start a war. It’s not.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare that a state of war already exists. This can only be true if the nation in question has committed overt acts of war against the United States.
This is supported by each and every declaration of war in U.S. history. Each declaration has followed the same format.
1. Congress cites the overt acts of war committed by the nation in question against the United States.
2. It recognizes the existence of the war because of those overt acts.
3. It directs the president to utilize the military to end the war.
The process is somewhat analogous to a criminal trial. The president “makes his case” to Congress that certain actions by a foreign nation amount to acts of war. Congress then deliberates, renders its verdict and passes sentence. The president is directed to execute the sentence.