When the Constitution was written, war was a lot simpler — for one thing, it took a long time. You had to move armies and ships and supplies and well, this just wasn’t done overnight.
So the Founding Fathers, wary of letting the President have too much power as Commander-in-Chief, wrote Article I, Section 8, which gave Congress the power to “declare war.”
They haven’t done that since World War II.
So now Obama is about to take actions against Syria that, by any standard, is an act of “war”. But we’ve allowed our Presidents to do this so many times that no one is seriously suggesting that this is unConstitutional any more. (Well, except for the Obama haters, most of whom had absolutely no problem with GW Bush doing the same thing, so we can ignore them.)
But it’s still not that simple. The Constitution does not define what a “war” is or what the process is for Congress to declare it, nor does it prevent the President as Commander-in-Chief from ordering troops anywhere he wants and so on.
During Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act which severely limited the President’s power to keep troops somewhere without congressional approval. It has not been enforced since then.
On the other hand, Congress did approve Presidential actions in Iraq and Afghanistan even though they never officially called it a “war.”
Then there’s the question of treaties. If this is done with UN approval, maybe foreign treaties take precedence over the Constitution, like when we went into Libya. (Well, with drones.)
So as our President becomes more and more imperial during wartime, we seem to be sitting back and going along for the ride.
This is especially disturbing right now with Syria, because a vast majority of Americans want us to stay away from that terrible place (How often do you get 75% of Americans to agree on anything?).
I’d say this is a perfect time for Congress to step in and say “no” to the President, but sadly the vast majority of Congress is in agreement with him.