WASHINGTON — While President Barack Obama insists he wants only a limited air attack on Syria, his proposed authorization of force would empower him to do much more than that. Congress is likely to impose tighter reins, as lawmakers have learned that presidents are prone to expand on powers once granted
The substantive part of Obama's proposed authorization of the use of military force, conveyed to congressional leaders over the weekend, contains 172 words. That's significantly more than either the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War or the 2001 resolution authorizing retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks, two measures that later became notorious for how aggressively presidents used them.
The proposed resolution gives Obama a go-ahead to use the military as he "determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria." Specifically, the president could act to "prevent or deter the use or proliferation" of the weapons or to "protect the United States and its allies and partners" from the weapons."
Tellingly, University of Texas Law School Professor Robert Chesney said in an interview, Obama's proposed authorization did not include a sunset date. Chesney suggested that "if the administration is serious about wanting to act in such a truly narrow, time-limited way," then a sunset measure could be useful.