Follow the Constitution, Mr. President

The United States now finds itself on the doorstep of yet another war, in which the lives of many more Americans will be lost, in an attempt to depose a despotic ruler of a Middle Eastern country.

Americans are left to ask themselves why? Could it really be just as simple as the president making a threat that he must now back up with military force simple to prove his words weren’t empty?

It’s not as if President Obama hasn’t already re-drawn the red line.

Just last year Obama said that any attempt by Syria to move or use its chemical weapons was a “red line” that would lead to “enormous consequences.” And then in April, when Assad first used chemical weapons, the president immediately backed off his statements, retreating as the New York Daily News wrote “into the equivalent of legalisms.”

“We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them; we don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened,” Obama said in April. “And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in the position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do.”

Could it really be that President Obama is just really, really serious this time? And that yet another equivocation would harm his status in the world? And if so, is that a good enough reason?

As Victor David Hanson writes for National Review, the question of “why” has been asked, and the American public is deserving of an answer:

I don’t think the administration has as of yet articulated what its aims are and thus is confused about the means of obtaining them. Is the point of the impending military action to remove Assad, engage his opposition, and foster a consensual society in his place, as if the U.S. can at last do what so far the Arab Spring has not? To destroy enough of his assets to allow the insurgents (but who exactly are they?) to rebound somewhat? To establish a new American-enforced global statute that WMD use is not permissible in a way that a Rwanda, Grozny, or the Sudan apparently was? To restore U.S. credibility to ensure that our red lines and deadlines are treated seriously? Simply to punish Assad to show our displeasure for his defiant role in 100,000 deaths? All, some, or none of these aims?

After all, war is not simply something that we rush headlong into without serious contemplation. Lives will be lost, history will be inexorably changed, international relationships will be forever altered, and vast sums of money will be literally blown up. The inherent importance of the decision was something that did not escape the founders of this nation or the framers of its constitution.

“This system will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it,” framer and ratifier James Wilson said at the Pennsylvania ratifying convention. “It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress; for the important power of declaring war is vested in the legislature at large.”

Wilson’s sentiment was borne out in the thought process of succeeding presidents, each of which took great care in the declaration of war.

“Considering that Congress alone is constitutionally invested with the power of changing our condition from peace to war, I have thought it my duty to await their authority for using force in any degree which could be avoided,” Thomas Jefferson said in a message to Congress over a boundary dispute with Spain.

Congressional consultation is not some antiquated notion. Even today, 80 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using force in Syria.

Nevertheless, President Obama appears ready to unilaterally set the nation on a course for war — a course that has many concerned. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Department of Defense is hesitant to jump into yet another armed conflict, especially a purely punitive one without a coherent strategy. And a war-weary (and wary) public feels no differently. A Reuters poll last week found that a mere 9 percent of Americans supported a military intervention into Syria’s civil war.

Perhaps public support isn’t a necessary factor in the president’s decision making. But the will of the people, as expressed by their duly-elected representatives in Congress, absolutely is. Follow the Constitution Mr. President.