President Barack Obama, in his speech Wednesday to make the case for a United States war on ISIS, suggested merely talking with some Congress members is enough to legitimate the war and invoked the Founders as supporters of worldwide US domination. In contrast to Obama’s assertions, the US Constitution places in Congress the war declaration power and the Founders largely prescribed a foreign policy centered on nonintervention.
Many people hoped in the early days of the United States that calls for war and foreign intervention would be squelched by the constitutional requirement that war not be pursued unless it is first declared by Congress. But, such declarations have become passé in the years since World War II as American presidents have tended to treat war as something solely within their own control.
Obama makes no mention in his speech of seeking a congressional declaration of war. Instead, he says that talking with a few members of Congress as he pursues the war is good enough to justify continuing and expanding the war. Obama states in his speech:
So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
Given that finding congressional members who will state their outright opposition to war on ISIS is not an easy task and that the US House of Representatives and Senate leadership has long supported Obama’s pursuit of the war, a congressional debate and vote on the war may place little restraint on Obama. Yet, even if the war were approved in House and Senate votes, the pre-vote debate would help the American people focus on the issues involved, and the vote would make pro-war Congress members take, instead of duck, responsibility for the war.
To meet, or at least approach, constitutional requirements, some Congress members are arguing that there needs to be a congressional war declaration, or even just an authorization, for Obama to continue to pursue or to escalate the war on ISIS. That is true as far as it goes; an embrace of the nonintervention is also needed.
As the US war on ISIS escalates, many Americans appear to have lost — even if only temporarily — their adherence to nonintervention. Obama’s withdrawal of his planned attack on Syria last year in the face of widespread public opposition suggests that Americans had been increasingly embracing nonintervention. But, Obama and his accomplices in politics, media, and industry regrouped and came back with a new plan to overcome American opposition to war. It seems that the roots for opposing war and supporting nonintervention are not yet strong enough to withstand this onslaught of propaganda promoting war on ISIS, including, alas, war in Syria.
At least in the short term, the people are not shutting down this war. With time that may change.
We can see a dramatic example of the extent of the departure from nonintervention principles since the early days of the US by comparing how Obama describes in his speech the role of the US in the world with how John Quincy Adams, who later became the sixth president of the United States, addresses the topic in a July 4, 1821 speech. While some people may suggest departures from nonintervention even before 1821, the US was then far from the across-the-globe meddler it is today.
First, consider Obama’s twisting of American Founders’ support for freedom, justice, and dignity into an endorsement of US domination worldwide:
America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.
Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform –- pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and servicemembers who support our partners on the ground.
Second, consider then-Secretary of State Adams’ comments describing noninterventionist foreign policy as a component of how America had aided people around the world:
And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the older world, the first observers of mutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to inquire, what has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this–America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the inde-pendence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama, the European World, will be contests between inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
When we again hear a US president or secretary of state speaking like Adams instead of like Obama — whether due to actual conviction or political expediency — it will most likely be because Americans’ support for nonintervention has grown much stronger. Then, the task for the American people will be to make sure that the politicians follow through on the noninterventionist pronouncements.