Under question from Sen. Sessions at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that “international permission,” rather than Congressional approval, provides a ‘legal basis’ for military action by the United States.
Sen. Jeff Sessions: "Do you think that you can act without Congress to initiate a no-fly zone in Syria, without Congressional approval?"
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "Again, our goal would be to seek international permission and we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this. Whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress, I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here."
Sen. Jeff Sessions: "Well, I'm almost breathless about that. Because what I heard you say is, "we are going to seek international approval, and then we will come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we 'might' seek Congressional approval."
Panetta then goes on to explicitly state that the President has the authority to "act in the defense of the nation" without Congressional approval and that a NATO resolution would be all the legal justification the administration needs in order to wage yet another foreign war.
Sen. Sessions notes that the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C 1541–1548) and the U.S. Constitution prohibit such actions by the President. The act specifically states that: "The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to: (1)A declaration of war; (2)Specific statutory authorization; or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
Memo to Leon Panetta: When it comes to Syria, the Constitution limits the authority to declare war to the Congress alone, not the international community or the president.
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