Air Strikes: The role of Congress

The American administartion, in league with some middle eastern allies, launched airstrikes against Syria today in a move to reduce the threat posed by ‘Islamic State’. This poses a fantastic example for the role of the President as commander-in-chief and his ability to act in this manner.

It raises a more important issue however about the imperial presidency. When airstrikes were ordered by Obama against Libya, he did not consult Congress or gain their approval, much to their dismay. In 2013, as his popularity fell, when he wanted to launch airstrikes against Syria, Obama asked Congress (while making it clear in his speech that he was under no obligation to do so and that this was not a precedent) – Congress said no (as the British Parliament before them had) and no airstrikes were launched. Now, once again asking Congress, but this time they have said yes. This gives us a fascinating insight in to the power balance between the President and Congress when it comes to these decisions and the impact that circumstances (such as popularity and world events) have on such decisions.

I have said before, your conclusion to most 45 mark questions will be, ‘it depends’ and this is a great example to show why – circumstances can completely change the power balance.