U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement today regarding his exchange with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta regarding potential U.S. military action in Syria:
"The admission from Secretary Panetta this week that the Obama Administration believes "international permission' provides a "legal basis' for U.S. military action represents a radical departure from America's legal heritage and the longstanding rules of war. The president's defense secretary went even further than that, however, and suggested that "international permission' is essential while congressional permission is optional. No one disputes the importance of coalition building, but the value of coalitions is quite different from providing a "legal basis' or permission for military action.
The exchange in question provided a clear window into the Obama Administration's philosophy and their apparent belief that international opinion ought to control American policy. This has implications far wider than Syria.
We are witnessing a potential sea change in the American system with enormous long-term consequences for both foreign and domestic policy. The "legal basis' for military action lies exclusively in our Constitution and our laws. There is no other source of authority for a president for the use of military power. No treaty or foreign law empowers any other nation or group of nations to limit the deployment of our military to advance what we deem in this circumstance to be in our security interest.
So far, the Administration has failed to retract its repeated remarks from the Armed Services hearing. It is now urgent that these comments be publicly, vocally, and forcefully disavowed in the most unambiguous fashion possible."
Excerpts from the exchange follow:
SESSIONS: "Do you think you can act without Congress and initiate a no-fly zone in Syria without congressional approval?"
PANETTA: "You know, again--our goal would be to seek international permission. And we would--we would come to the Congress and inform you and determine how best to approach this, whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress. I think those are issues we would have to discuss as we decide what to do here."
SESSIONS: "Well I am almost breathless about that because what I heard you say is, "we're going to seek international approval and we'll come and tell the Congress what we might do, and we might seek congressional approval' Wouldn't you agree that would be pretty breathtaking to the average American?"
PANETTA: "If we are working with an international coalition or NATO we would want to be able to get appropriate permissions in order to be able to do that. All of these countries would want to have some kind of legal basis on which to act."
SESSIONS: "What "legal basis' are you looking for? What entity?"
PANETTA: "If NATO made the decision to go in, that would be one. If we developed an international coalition beyond NATO then obviously some kind of U.N. security resolution would be the basis for that."
SESSIONS: "So you are saying NATO would give you a "legal basis'? And an ad hoc coalition of nations would provide a "legal basis'?"
PANETTA: "We would seek whatever legal basis we would need in order to make that justified. We can't just pull them all together without getting the legal basis on which to act."
SESSIONS: "I'm all for having international support, but I'm really baffled by the idea that somehow an international assembly provides a legal basis for the United States military to be deployed in combat. I don't think it's close to being correct. They provide no legal authority. The only legal authority that's required to deploy the U.S. military is the Congress and the president and the law in the Constitution."