An Appeal to Gen. Dempsey: Resign If Obama Orders Attack on Syria Without Congressional Authorization

An Appeal to Gen. Dempsey: Resign If Obama Orders Attack on Syria Without Congressional AuthorizationPublished on Saturday, August 31, 2013 by

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff
chairman, has spoken soberly about the dangers from any military strike
on Syria, but press reports indicate President Obama is still set on
launching cruise missiles in the coming days, an action that former U.S.
intelligence professionals say should prompt Dempsey’s resignation


MEMORANDUM FOR: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Syria and Our Oath to Defend the Constitution

Dear Gen. Dempsey:

Summary: We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of
July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is
not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.”
It appears that the President may order such an act of war without
proper Congressional authorization.
As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly
sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we
have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty
not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing
would be to resign, rather than be complicit.

responding to questions on military options voiced at your
re-nomination hearing on July 18, your letter to the chair of the
Committee on Armed Services reflects that you acknowledge Congress’s
Constitutional role with respect to U.S. “acts of war.” Equally
important, you addressed these words to Sen. Levin: “You deserve my best
military advice on how military force could be used in order to decide whether it should be used.” (emphasis in your letter).
The options your letter addressed regarding potential use of military
force included five being considered at the time: (1) Train, Advise,
Assist the Opposition; (2) Conduct Limited Stand-off Strikes; (3)
Establish a No-Fly Zone; (4) Establish Buffer Zones; (5) Control
Chemical Weapons. You were quite candid about the risks and costs
attached to each of the five options, and stressed the difficulty of
staying out of the Syrian civil war, once the U.S. launched military

‘Tailored, Limited’ Strike Option

Presumably, there has not been enough time to give Sen. Levin’s
committee an equivalent assessment of the implications of the new option
described by the President Wednesday evening as a “tailored, limited”
response to the chemical weapons attack on August 21 that he has been
told was carried out by Syrian government forces. President Obama said,
without elaboration, that a retaliatory strike is “needed … to protect
U.S. security.”
It is precisely this kind of unsupported claim (so embarrassingly
reminiscent of the spurious ones used more than a decade ago to
“justify” attacks on Iraq) that needs to be subjected to rigorous
analysis by both the Pentagon and Congress BEFORE the President orders
military action. For some unexplained reason of urgency, that order may
come within the next day or two. With no wish to prejudge the results of
analysis presumably under way, we feel it our responsibility to tell
you now that, speaking out of several hundred years of collective
experience in intelligence and national security matters, we strongly
believe that the President’s reference to a military strike on Syria
being “needed to protect U.S. security” cannot bear close scrutiny.
In all candor, the credibility of his chief national security
advisers – and his own credibility – have been seriously damaged in
recent months, giving all the more urgency and importance to the need
for Congress to exercise its Constitutional role regarding war. And, as
usual, there are serious problems with the provenance and nature of the
“intelligence” that is being used to support the need for military
In your July 19 letter to Sen. Levin you emphasized: “As we weigh our
options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that the
use of force will move us toward the intended outcome. … Once we take
action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is
hard to avoid. We should act in accordance with the law, and to the extent possible, in concert with our allies and partners.” (emphasis supplied)
This last sentence raises, first and foremost, the question of what
the Constitution says of the role of Congress in authorizing a military
attack that, in your words, “is no less than an act of war” (further
discussed below).
It also raises the important issue of how seriously we should take
the result of democratic Parliamentary procedures among our allies.
Although not legally required to do so, British Prime Minister David
Cameron on Thursday sought Parliamentary approval for military action
against Syria and was rebuffed. With as much grace as he could summon,
Cameron said the British people had expressed their will and he would
not flout it (even though he could do so, legally in the British
“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views
of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I
get that, and the government will act accordingly,” a tense-looking
Cameron said immediately after the vote.
French President Francois Hollande has said his country may still
strike Syria to “punish” it for allegedly using chemical weapons,
despite the British Parliament’s failure to endorse military action. If
Fiji can be lined up again, that would make a coalition of at least
The Fundamentals: Congress’s Role

Before the President spoke on Wednesday, the ranking member on the
House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice,
Jerrold Nadler issued a formal statement titled: Constitution Requires Congressional Authorization on Use of Force Against Syria. Nadler wrote:
“The Constitution requires that, barring an attack on the United
States or an imminent threat to the U.S., any decision to use military
force can only be made by Congress – not by the President. The decision
to go to war – and we should be clear, launching a military strike on
another country, justified or not, is an act of war – is reserved by the
Constitution to the American people acting through their elected
representatives in Congress.
“Since there is no imminent threat to the United States, there is no
legal justification for bypassing the Constitutionally-required
Congressional authorization. ‘Consultation’ with Congress is not
sufficient. The Constitution requires Congressional authorization.
“The American people deserve to have this decision debated and made
in the open, with all the facts and arguments laid out for public review
and debate, followed by a Congressional vote. If the President believes
that military action against Syria is necessary, he should immediately
call Congress back into session and seek the Constitutionally-required
As of Thursday, more than a third of the House of Representatives
have spoken out against being marginalized, as they were before Libya,
many insisting that there be Congressional debate and a vote before any
military strike on Syria.
In addition, Republican House Speaker John Boehner sent Obama a
letter Wednesday urging him to “make the case to the American people and
Congress for how potential military action will secure American
national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the
future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our
broader policy and strategy.”
The President called Boehner on Thursday to brief him “on the status
of deliberations over Syria,” according to a Boehner spokesman, who
added that, “during the call, the speaker sought answers to concerns
outlined in his letter, including the legal justification for any
military strike.” After the call, Boehner reportedly complained that his
questions had not been answered.
Holding Congress in Contempt

Elementary school children learn that, in view of the Founders’
experience with English kings, it was not by chance that, in crafting
the Constitution, they took care to give to our elected representatives
in Congress the exclusive “Power To declare War [and] To raise and
support Armies.” (Article 1, Section 8). The somber historical
consequences of letting this key power of Congress fall into disuse
after WWII – in effect, allowing Presidents to act like Kings – speak
eloquently to the folly of ignoring Article 1, Section 8.
And yet, there is no sign that President Barack Obama intends to
request Congressional authorization (as opposed to “consultation” with
chosen Members) before he orders military action against Syria. Indeed,
he and his top appointees have been openly contemptuous of the
Constitutional role of Congress in such matters.
Obama’s former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was smoother and more
wise-old-handish than his predecessors in emasculating Congressional
power. Thanks to Panetta, we have direct insight into how the Obama
administration may strike Syria with very little consultation (not to
mention authorization) from Congress.
Several of us remember watching you in some distress sitting next to
your then-boss Panetta as he tried to put Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama)
in his place, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on
March 7, 2012. Chafing belatedly over the unauthorized nature of the war
in Libya, Sessions asked repeatedly what “legal basis” would the Obama
administration rely on to do in Syria what it did in Libya.
Panetta stonewalled time after time, making it abundantly clear that
the Obama administration does not believe it needs Congressional
approval for wars like the one in Libya. “I am really baffled,” said
Sessions. “The only legal authority that’s required to deploy the U.S.
military [in combat] is the Congress and the President and the law and
the Constitution.”
Panetta’s response did nothing to relieve Sessions’s bafflement: “Let
me just for the record be clear again, Senator, so there is no
misunderstanding. When it comes to national defense, the President has
the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country, and
we will, Sir.”
You will remember Panetta’s attitude, which Sen. Sessions called
“breathtaking.” You said nothing then, and we can understand that. But,
frankly, we are hoping that you had that awkward experience in mind when
you reminded Sen. Levin that, “We should act in accordance with the
Clearly, there is an important Constitutional issue here. The
question is whether you will again choose to be silent, or whether you
will give Secretary Chuck Hagel and the President notice that your oath
to support and defend the Constitution precludes complicity in
end-running Congress on Syria.
If, Resign

We do not understand why the White House has so far been unwilling to
await the results of the UN inspection in Damascus, but we are all too
familiar with what happens once the juggernaut starts rolling to war.
However, if despite Thursday’s vote in the British Parliament and the
increased opposition in Congress to war without the authorization of
Congress, the President decides to order an attack on Syria, we urge you
to act in accordance with your solemn oath to support and defend the
Constitution, as well as your own conscience.
In such circumstances, we believe strongly that you should resign and explain your reasons at once to the American people.

Very Respectfully,

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

William Binney, Senior Scientist, NSA (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former)

Dan Ellsberg, VIPS Member Emeritus

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

W. Patrick Lang, Senior Executive and Defense Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, CIA intelligence analyst and CIA briefer of Presidents (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)

Todd Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General (ret.)

Coleen Rowley, Division Council & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret); Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

An earlier version of this letter first appeared at

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Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is a group
of current and former officials of the United States Intelligence
Community, including some from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
the U.S. State Department's Intelligence Bureau (INR), and the Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA). It was formed in January 2003 as a
"coast-to-coast enterprise" to protest the use of faulty intelligence
"upon which the US/UK invasion of Iraq was based." The group issued a
letter before the 2003 invasion of Iraq stating that intelligence
analysts were not being listened to by policy makers.