In the midst of growing signs of likely military intervention in Syria, Rep. Rich Nugent (FL-11) sent the following letter to the President of the United States:
Dear Mr. President,
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and as the duly elected representative of over six hundred thousand American citizens, I write you today to express my sincere concerns about your potential military action against Syria. On grounds both practical and principled, your apparent intention to proceed to war has not been justified. Your administration has proposed intervention, as have our allies, on the grounds that the Assad regime committed morally indefensible acts against its own people and that a proportionate punishment is necessary and appropriate. And while very few people would disagree with the characterization of the regime's actions, the legal justification being floated is that the widespread use of these weapons represents an imminent threat to our allies and our national security. That theoretical threat, in turn, should legally justify a preemptive attack. But the moral argument for punishment and the preemptive argument for national security are not the same thing. The first may be compelling, but the second is unsubstantiated. If your administration believes that our allies are under imminent threat from Syrian chemical weapons, I would like to see the intelligence underlying that belief. The American people would as well. And if there is no intelligence to support that claim, then your administration cannot possibly use an imagined imminent threat as a legal justification for unauthorized military action. Furthermore, from a purely practical standpoint, it is unclear what precisely a missile attack will accomplish if the goal is to eliminate an imminent chemical threat. A conventional cruise missile attack will almost certainly not destroy the chemical weapons. And without Special Forces or other reliable sources on the ground selecting targets, we cannot hope to effectively neutralize the regime's capabilities. Gaining that targeting capability will require close air support and troops on the ground. That would change this situation entirely. Your assumption is that an attack on highly visible targets will prove to be an effective deterrent for any further use of chemical weapons. But again, that case has not been made. If we cannot eliminate the weapons with a missile strike and our action is as likely to provoke an attack on our allies as it is to prevent one, then what precisely is your justification? In the end, a moral imperative does not, in itself, constitute a legal justification under international law. And a legal justification based on international treaties does not absolve you of the constitutional limitations on your authority. In short, you have neither the authority, the justification, nor the articulated end goal and accompanying plan necessary to launch an attack on Syria. And while I may understand the tragedy occurring in Syria, and I may feel as you do about the moral imperative to protect those who cannot protect themselves, we both swore an oath to uphold and defend the same Constitution and to fulfill the same sacred promise to those whom we represent. As you well know, the Constitution does not give you the authority to wage war unilaterally. That authority is vested with the United States Congress. Simply consulting a few members of congressional leadership does not give you that authority. It is incumbent upon you, at this point, to articulate the threat to our national security, to articulate your plan for eliminating that threat, and to seek the people's approval for your action. There is no grey area. For these reasons, Mr. President, you should not and cannot attack.
Member of Congress (FL-11)
Rep. Nugent Statement on the Letter:
"There aren't many things these days that people all across the political spectrum can agree on, but one of them undoubtedly is Syria. The American people are tired of spending our blood and treasure in a fruitless attempt to try to fix that part of the world. But regardless of whether or not you think that intervening in Syria is appropriate, and I certainly don't, there are legal and constitutional restrictions on what the President can do unilaterally.
"Congress has rolled over too many times throughout the years. Each time that happens, the White House has grown more and more comfortable pushing the envelope. That was certainly the case with Libya. Enough is enough.
"Don't kid yourself, Syria does not represent an imminent threat to the United States. There is no attack looming on our troops or our allies. There is no emergency here. This has been going on for years and if the President thinks he can make the case that an attack is in our interest, then he needs to follow British Prime Minister Cameron's lead and let Congress express the will of the people."