"Congress doesn't have a whole lot of core responsibilities," said Barack Obama last week in an astonishing remark. For in the Constitution, Congress appears as the first branch of government. And among its enumerated powers are the power to tax, coin money, create courts, provide for the common defense, raise and support an army, maintain a navy and declare war.
But, then, perhaps Obama's contempt is justified. For consider Congress' broad assent to news that Obama has decided to attack Syria, a nation that has not attacked us and against which Congress has never authorized a war.
Why is Obama making plans to launch cruise missiles on Syria?
According to a "senior administration official ... who insisted on anonymity," President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people last week in the two-year-old Syrian civil war. But who deputized the United States to walk the streets of the world pistol-whipping bad actors. Where does our imperial president come off drawing "red lines" and ordering nations not to cross them?
Neither the Security Council nor Congress nor NATO nor the Arab League has authorized war on Syria.
Who made Barack Obama the Wyatt Earp of the Global Village?
Moreover, where is the evidence that WMDs were used and that it had to be Assad who ordered them? Such an attack makes no sense. Firing a few shells of gas at Syrian civilians was not going to advance Assad's cause but, rather, was certain to bring universal condemnation on his regime and deal cards to the War Party which wants a U.S. war on Syria as the back door to war on Iran.
Why did the United States so swiftly dismiss Assad's offer to have U.N. inspectors — already in Damascus investigating old charges he or the rebels used poison gas — go to the site of the latest incident?
Do we not want to know the truth? Are we fearful the facts may turn out, as did the facts on the ground in Iraq, to contradict our latest claims about WMDs? Are we afraid that it was rebel elements or rogue Syrian soldiers who fired the gas shells to stampede us into fighting this war?
With U.S. ships moving toward Syria's coast and the McCainiacs assuring us we can smash Syria from offshore without serious injury to ourselves, why has Congress not come back to debate war?
Lest we forget, Ronald Reagan was sold the same bill of goods the War Party is selling today — that we can intervene decisively in a Mideast civil war at little or no cost to ourselves.
Reagan listened and ordered our Marines into the middle of Lebanon's civil war. And he was there when they brought home the 241 dead from the Beirut barracks and our dead diplomats from the Beirut embassy.
The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. Congress should cut short its five-week vacation, come back, debate and decide by recorded vote whether Obama can take us into yet another Middle East war.
The questions to which Congress needs answers:
— Do we have incontrovertible proof that Bashar Assad ordered chemical weapons be used on his own people? And if he did not, who did?
— What kind of reprisals might we expect if we launch cruise missiles at Syria, which is allied with Hezbollah and Iran?
— If we attack, and Syria or its allies attack U.S. military or diplomatic missions in the Middle East or here in the United States, are we prepared for the wider war we will have started?
— Assuming Syria responds with a counterstrike, how far are we prepared to go up the escalator to regional war? If we intervene, are we prepared for the possible defeat of the side we have chosen, which would then be seen as a strategic defeat for the United States?
— If stung and bleeding from retaliation, are we prepared to go all the way, boots on the ground, to bring down Assad? Are we prepared to occupy Syria to prevent its falling to the Al-Nusra Front, which it may if Assad falls and we do not intervene?
The basic question that needs to be asked about this horrific attack on civilians, which appears to be gas related, is: Cui bono?
To whose benefit would the use of nerve gas on Syrian women and children redound? Certainly not Assad's, as we can see from the furor and threats against him that the use of gas has produced.
The sole beneficiary of this apparent use of poison gas against civilians in rebel-held territory appears to be the rebels, who have long sought to have us come in and fight their war.
Perhaps Congress cannot defund Obamacare. But at least they can come back to Washington and tell Obama, sinking poll numbers aside, he has no authority to drag us into another war. His Libyan adventure, which gave us the Benghazi massacre and cover-up, was his last hurrah as war president.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)