Featured Post

The shrinking presidency

By giving Congress the say on whether to strike against Syria, Obama diminished the powers of his office, now and forever

As of Saturday, President Obama can lay claim to something that none of his predecessors has ever done – he willingly diminished the power of the office of the President of the United States. The War Powers of the President have always engendered debate. Whether to fight Native Americans at the dawn of the republic or to send US troops into Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa in the early 20th century – Presidents have taken it upon themselves to decide on military actions without engaging Congress in the decision-making.

The Congress of the United States has been called upon to declare war only six times, the most recent being the declaration of war in against Germany and Japan in 1941. US Presidents have interpreted their power as Commander-in-Chief and their interposition power to “faithfully execute the laws” as enough of a mandate to order military action by American forces. President Thomas Jefferson, a theoretical believer in the limited power of the presidency, ordered the American fleet into the Mediterranean to fight the Barbary Pirates. Surely, that was a dangerous and longer engagement than firing some cruise missiles at sites in Syria.

The construct of the US government is that all three branches, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, are of equal status. Since at least the era of Theodore Roosevelt, however, the presidency has clearly been the “more equal” branch of the three. In modern times, it’s become ever clearer that quick and decisive presidential actions are necessary if they are to have any meaningful effect. If the United States was planning to act in Syria, it probably should have done so in the days immediately following the chemical attack. The same intelligence data that have now been made public were available almost moments after the attack. Yet, President Obama waited… and waited some more.

Clearly, he did not want to take any action, but knew that this was not an option with the eyes of the country and the world upon him. So what happened? Once again, Barack Obama punted. He has turned this decision over to Congress, relieving himself of the responsibility of making a choice himself. Obama has given the Russians and the Iranians an extra two weeks to create additional roadblocks for him. He has also upped the stakes. And, is he really going to ask Congress for a resolution giving the US military permission to fire fifty cruise missile at the Assad forces?

From the day he took office, one of the President’s principle weaknesses was his proclivity to outsource much of his programs to Congress. Both his early-days Economic Recovery Plan and the so-called Obamacare, are products of Congress. They may have come out somewhat half-baked, but they did emerge from Congress and probably did not weaken the Presidency. This time, however, we have seen a president who has for the first time in the history of the presidency, weakened the office of the president on purpose. Some might cheer this as the final death knell to the “imperial presidency.” I, for one, think that in the fast-paced world of the 21st century the U.S. president must have the greatest latitude to act, much more so than in the time of Thomas Jefferson. President Obama has singlehandedly weakened all of his successors.

President Obama came into office with no executive experience. It seems his five years as president have taught him very little about wielding executive power.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of Historycentral.com -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne
Related Topics
Related Posts