Alberto Gonzales on Wednesday criticized Congress for not taking a more active role in the discussion over whether the United States should attack Syria.
Speaking with TNReport.com in Nashville after he participated in an immigration reform policy forum, the former U.S. attorney general suggested that while an American president is within his legitimate powers to unilaterally authorize military force in order to “repel invasions” or otherwise act in “self defense,” when a question of national security isn’t cut and dried Congress needs to involve itself in any decision to go to war.
“What we are seeing more and more…is a Congress that is more deferential to the president in the area of war-making,” said Gonzales, who served in the administration of George W. Bush as White House counsel from 2001 to 2005 and then as attorney general until 2007. “That may be because the executive is much more flexible and much more nimble in dealing with a very complicated world where we are talking about chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. But we have to be very careful because that’s placing a great deal of power within the hands of one individual. I don’t know that that’s what the framers of the Constitution intended, quite frankly.”
Gonzales added that were he attorney general today he’d “have to think very seriously, long and hard about walking into the Oval Office and saying to the president, ‘Mr. President, you can do whatever you want to in Syria without worrying about whether Congress approves of it or not.’”
President Obama indicated Wednesday that he’s made no final decision about whether to launch air strikes against the Syrian government’s military for allegedly using chemical weapons against rebel forces battling for control of the country.
“We are consulting with our allies. We’re consulting with the international community. And you know, I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” the president said on the PBS NewsHour.
The United Nations on Wednesday called on Obama to hold off attacking Syria for a few days. “It is essential to establish the facts. A U.N. investigation team is now on the ground to do just that. Just days after the (Aug. 21) attack, they have collected valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses. The team needs time to do its job,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, according to a CBS News report.
Also on Wednesday, 116 members of the U.S. House of Representatives — 97 Republicans and 18 Democrats — signed a letter to the president urging that he “share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.” Tennesseans among the letter’s signatories included Republicans Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, John Duncan, Stephen Fincher, Diane Black and Chuck Fleischmann. Democrats Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen and Republican Scott DesJarlais haven’t signed the letter.
On Monday, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the highest ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested he doesn’t believe the administration is constitutionally mandated to seek a congressional OK before striking Syria, but that he nevertheless hopes the president will consult with Congress on the matter “at some point.”
“They do not need an authorization, but I do hope that they’ll come for one,” Corker said. “If you really look at foreign policy over the last long period of times, Congress has gotten a pass on all of these issues, and the debate in Washington to me can be almost sophomoric and silly, because we’re not taking ownership over these decisions. So, I do hope – I do think they plan to come for authorization.”
Gonzales told TNReport he differs with Corker on his apparent level of “expectation of the president to come to the Congress and at least brief the Congress about what he’s going to do, and maybe even seek a resolution.”
“When you use force, you never know what the repercussions are going to be. What happens if we send a plane and the plane is shot down? All of the sudden we’ve got an airman at stake,” said Gonzales, who now teaches law at Belmont University and works for the firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis.
“So, when you are talking about the use of force, I think the United States is always better served when the elected branches of government are working together,” Gonzales said.
Alex Harris contributed to this report.