While appearing on Sunday's edition of "Fareed Zakaria," CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin argued that the United Nations and NATO are "legitimate substitutes" for Congress if lawmakers do not vote to approve Obama's action against Syria.
"Jeff you made a distinction I want to understand a little bit better," Zakaria said. "You were strong about, well, either congressional authority or something from the UN. But the Constitution doesn’t say anything about UN authorization. Presumably, the crucial thing from a constitutional point of view is whether or not you need congressional authorization for the president to act. Why would the UN or NATO be sufficient?"
"Fareed, I don’t want to pretend that I think, if you look at the history of the last 30 years, there is a perfectly logically consistent line here. I am advocating a position that I think largely should be followed, has mostly been followed, but I don’t want to pretend that this is some wild aberration if Obama were to have done it on his own," Toobin started.
"I think this has really been a practical change to how both Americans and even members of Congress feel about the use of military force. That the sanction of our treaty obligations, whether it’s our obligations in the United Nations or in NATO in the case of Bosnia, those are authorizations in and of themselves for military action. The fact that we are part of the Security Council. When the Security Council authorizes military action, that’s authorization for us. Same with NATO," he added.
Toobin agreed that the Constitution does not address the United Nations, but made the argument that the global body could step in if U.S. lawmakers do not give the thumbs-up for action.
"But I think as the common law of international law has developed over the past 30 years, I think they are legitimate substitutes for congressional authorization," he said.
"But remember here, Obama has nothing so far. And that’s why I think it’s so important that he get some sort of authorization," he added.
Toobin also noted that there is no direct threat to Americans or to America's national security interests.
Steven Groves, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Obama has the authority to conduct military strikes against Syria without getting approval from Congress or anyone else, but could face political, diplomatic and military ramifications for doing so.
"Now, Congress has checks on that ability," he said, explaining that lawmakers can decide not to declare war or fund the operation.
"But the ability for the executive to have the power to act quickly, to secure our national interests, to defend ourselves and in the case of Syria, if strikes are done, to eradicate the ability to fire off chemical weapons, is something that the executive power has to have without seeking authority from some other source," he added.
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