Is there a limit besides an actual deceleration of war? This Syrian conflict I think showed too much military power being given to the US president. This whole conflict appears to violate international law and seems to be illegal to me since Syria never attacked any US territory. US now has bases in Syria and recently said they would be shooting down any jets that come by its bases. Aren't there checks and balances on these types of issues?


3 Answers 3


Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution reads:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States

However, how far these permissions extend was always a matter of debate. Especially because Article 1 Section 8 gives the right to declare war exclusively to the Congress:

The Congress shall have Power To [...] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Still, as commander in chief, the president can simply tell the army: "Fly to Syria and start shooting people" even without a formal declaration of war. And because the President is the head of the military chain of command, the military would obey.

All congress could do about this is:

  • Try to impeach the president on the grounds that he violated international law by engaging in military actions without a formal declaration of war.
  • Pull the plug on military funding (budget is under the control of Congress) and hope the soldiers desert when they aren't paid anymore.
  • Wow, seems like a really BIG loophole there. I guess it's just a free pass to do what you want since congress is too divided to do do anything.
    – Noah
    Aug 26, 2016 at 15:08
  • Congress can also pull the plug on other funding. The President can't spend money on his own authority: Article 1, section 9 says that Congress is the sole source of permission to spend money. If Congress is sufficiently annoyed with the President's military actions, they can simply refuse to renew whichever piece of the budget is up next.
    – Mark
    Aug 26, 2016 at 18:29
  • 2
    I think your conclusion is a bit more nuanced in reality. (1) There is this notion of lawful orders (recently brought to mind by Trump's claim that the military would do anything he said). Very rare and case by case though. (2) Congress can appeal to SCOTUS to say that the Pres overstepped his authority and his orders are invalid (this happens sometimes with executive actions). Their main tool of checking and balancing the President's power though is, as you mentioned, the power of the purse. Aug 26, 2016 at 18:31
  • 1
    There is an arguement to be made that the president could not send troops to another country with out permission of Congress per the Constitution and the War powers resolution which limits the ability as well Aug 26, 2016 at 18:37
  • 2
    @Chad, the War Powers Resolution has never really been tested. It could be a workable restriction, or it could be ruled an unconstitutional power grab by Congress.
    – Mark
    Aug 26, 2016 at 18:41

Two things. First, Congress does not oppose United States (US) military action in Syria. So talking about Congress restricting the President from military action in Syria is impractical. Yes, some individuals in Congress oppose such action, but there is a clear majority in favor of it. The only reason that Congress hasn't passed a declaration of war is that the one that the president requested was too limited to get support from the more ardent advocates of military action.

Second, it is generally believed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists allows the US to go to war against any organization involved with 9/11. Daesh/IS used to be Al-Qaeda Iraq, so it triggers it. That they have moved into Syria as well doesn't change that.

It's unclear what would happen if the President ordered a war and Congress disagreed. There would be a constitutional crisis. An impeachment could resolve that. The generals could find the orders illegal and refuse to obey them, although that would also be a constitutional crisis. Of course, most generals involved are in favor of military intervention in this case.

  • Whether or not AUM is sufficient is a pretty debatable question (literally. There are experts on both sides of the thing and there were public debates on the topic). I'm not sure why you assert "generally believed".
    – user4012
    Aug 28, 2016 at 23:02
  • +1 for the argument to reality, since all the fluffy intellectual debates in the world are worthless if the scenario they're debating is completely irrelevant.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Sep 1, 2016 at 22:58

The President of the United States of America is also the Commander-In-Chief of the United States Armed Forces and therefore holds ultimate authority in matters of military operation. Furthermore, Eastern Syria is no longer under control of the Syrian State and has fallen under control of groups that are actively engaged in hostilities against the United States of American and it's allies. This demands a response from the USAF.

  • This whole civil war started with the attempt of regime change by the US. Syria has every right to defend their land against foreign invaders. Russia, a Syrian ally has every right to defend it's allies.
    – Noah
    Aug 26, 2016 at 15:02
  • @Killer066 cool conspiracy theory. Aug 26, 2016 at 15:12
  • The facts are all there. If you choose to ignore them, that's your prerogative.
    – Noah
    Aug 26, 2016 at 15:22
  • 3
    "The President of the United States of America is also the Commander-In-Chief of the United States Armed Forces and therefore holds ultimate authority in matters of military operation." -- This is not true. The Commander-In-Chief clause only means that the President is at the top of the military chain of command. It does not mean that Congress has no authority over the President's military decisions.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Sep 1, 2016 at 23:04
  • @WesSayeed Yes it is. Congress does not have authority over the president. Do you know what a chain of command is? Sep 2, 2016 at 13:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .