September 7th, 2013
03:54 PM ET

Does Obama need Congress OK to attack Syria?

Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with CNN legal analyst and New Yorker contributor Jeffery Toobin and the Heritage Foundation’s Steven Groves about whether President Obama needs to ask Congress for authorization to strike Syria.

Jeff, let me start with you. Does the president, in your opinion, have the legal authority to essentially wage war against another country without consulting with Congress?

Toobin: Not in these circumstances. I think he's required to go to Congress or the United Nations or NATO or some sort of legal – acquire some sort of legal justification for what he's doing other than he thinks it's a good idea.

There is no direct threat to American nationals or national security. And I think he needs some sort of authorization as, it seems to me, every president has had since World War II, which is the last time we actually had a formal Congressional declaration of war.

But expand on that, Jeff, for a second, because I mean I can think of so many strikes – when Clinton ordered strikes against al Qaeda, against Saddam Hussein. He didn't get Congressional approval when Reagan invaded Grenada, he didn't even notify Congress until it happened.

Well, I think you can draw distinctions among all of those situations. With Clinton, it was self-defense.  It was al Qaeda, which had attacked American embassies and American ships. With Grenada, it was immediate self-defense of American civilians who were in Grenada. And if you look at the other circumstances, where war was planned in advance, I think there was authorization.

Whether it was through Congress in the two Iraq Wars, or through NATO as in Bosnia, or through the United Nations, as in Libya just a few months ago. I think presidents, both for the legitimacy of their own tenure and also for their own political good, there has to be some sort of justification other than they think that it's just a good idea.

Steven, what do you think?

Groves: I fall on other side of the spectrum. The commander-in-chief power is in our executive. And putting aside for a moment whether or not strikes on Syria would be a prudent thing to do, I believe that the president does have the authority to have such strikes without going to Congress, going to the United Nations without going to anyone else. The could be political and diplomatic and military ramifications for him doing so, but the authority is there. And it must rest there.

Now Congress has checks on that ability. They can decide not to declare war. They can decide not to fund a war. But the ability for the executive to have the power to act quickly to secure our national interests, to defend ourselves and, in the case of Syria, if strikes are done, to eradicate the ability to fire off chemical weapons, is something that the executive power has to have without seeking authority from some other source.

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Topics: GPS Show • Syria

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. ✠RZ✠

    Let me get this straight, the leader of a nation trying to do the right and honourable thing by following the letter of the law as well as openly exercising full democracy ?!? That's unheard of !!

    September 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  2. peteybee

    No War. This is the same as Bush and Iraq. Obama has delivered us nothing but Bush policies. He deserves to be kicked out of office for the same reasons Bush did.

    September 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
    • Pseudotriton

      Bush was never kicked out untimely.

      September 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
      • peteybee

        well he should have been

        September 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  3. TJ

    Its our moral duty to act!

    September 8, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
    • Daniel Webster

      Whatever. It's our moral duty to mind our own business for once.

      September 8, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  4. Mary-anne Bennett

    Our policy in the Middle East for 40 years has been to support dictators. Did we not look the other way when Saddam used chemical weapons in the war with Iran? and use on his own people? Did we challenge Iraq or Syria on their build up? Did Mubarak initiate democratic reforms? No. That 30 billion went to his family, cronies and hair dye. G.H.W. Bush brilliantly got together a coalition and took on Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. Fait accomplait. Brilliant. Obama has wasted time. Now too little too late. Two years ago he should have networked with allies. .Jordan Israel UAE Qatar Saudi Arabia and include IRAN..yes...need to talk...and started diplomatic process. Now too late. We will strike Syria and NOT remove Assad. No, likely to empower him. and why are we obsessed with American credibility. In the Middle East we have NONE. We have supported Israel for 65 years We have paid a high price as is now evident. We need to distance ourselves from Israel. Israel is an amazing country with high tech industries,has nuclear wweapons and can defend itself. It needs to realize its own leadership role in the region and network with Turkey. Israel needs to get past the rhetoric the Arabs know Israel is here to stay. We need to pressure Israel to accept a two state solution (otherwise there is no future for Israel); stop the settlements and the aid. they do not need our monie.
    And what is the end game for a strike? More confusion.chaos,innocents dying. We need to pursue diplomacy till it fails.
    These are transitional times...we will be survive but we need new directions. New policies. We need the courage of our convictions. Our credibility will be our new polices...not air strikes.

    September 8, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
  5. apostasyusa

    America is a war weary country after Bush Inc. wasted trillions of tax dollars in Iraq only to watch as the country fell into it’s own civil war. Thousands of people are still dying in Iraq each month. The tax dollars we spent in Iraq could have funded Social Security for 75 years!

    What will Congress do with Syria? Will the Republican’s disdain for Obama trump their support for wars? Will enough Democrats and Republicans come together to stop the use of force in Syria? That my fellow citizens, is the question of the decade!

    I’ve come a long way on this and I think it would be better to avoid the use of military strikes. The targets are few and the rebels in Syria are not exactly the people you want taking power. There must be more clever ways of punishing Assad then blowing up some buildings.

    The silence surrounding how energy policy plays into this web of war is deafening. Why is Assad and Syria important enough for anybody to care? Is our country's and our allies mineral rights management so important that we would cling to hypocrisies surrounding what kinds of weapons can be used in war? There are terrible things in the bombs that we and our allies have dropped over the last decade or two.

    I appreciate the approach of our President on this. He is awaiting the UN inspectors to do their work and he is going to Congress for approval. Obama’s office has said that if Congress says no to the use of force they will abide. This is a very messy situation. Options are limited. I pray our country and the world can come together for a solution.

    September 8, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
  6. Pseudotriton

    Groves said something amounts to that the president should seek congressional authorization only when the congress shows unanimity in supporting the cause. In other words, don't bother to seek their approval unless they're ready to just act as a rubber stamp. What a joke this guy is.

    September 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  7. Fire

    If the U.S. were attacked I would say Yes, but for The U.S. to go into Syria and attack them, I would say no. The people are saying no on attacking Syria and if the House Or Senate say yes against the people or if Obama attacks Syria with or without the approval of the people I say, force them that vote yes out of office asap no questions. Pack your bags and leave with disgrace and don't look back.

    September 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  8. Ransome

    Obama is acting irrationally. He has no authorization to act unilaterally and bomb Syria, regardless what he believes is his place in history or what threats he made. The approval of Congress is irrelevant. This is a matter for the UN.

    September 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Reply

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