TAMPA, September 1, 2013 — One day after President Obama indicated he would seek a vote from Congress on whether to launch missile strikes against Syria, media outlets have already begun reporting on the debate from a number of perspectives. As usual, one perspective is completely ignored: that of the American taxpayer.
The Constitution grants Congress the power to tax U.S. citizens to provide for the common defense of U.S. citizens, not every soul on the planet. The only exception is for citizens in countries with whom the United States has signed a mutual defense treaty. In those situations, it is assumed that American taxpayers get a reasonably equal benefit back in defense provided to them.
The founders still told us to avoid those alliances whenever possible.
Regardless, the United States has no treaty with Syria. If it did, it would be with the Assad government, not with rebels attempting to overthrow it. Syria has not attacked the United States nor issued a declaration of war against them. There isn’t even a U.N. Security Council resolution for force against Syria, which strict constitutionalists don’t recognize as legitimate anyway.
President Obama is arguing for the United States to intervene militarily solely for “humanitarian” reasons. That begs the question:
How did American taxpayers become financially responsible for protecting Syrian rebels and civilians?
Every other U.S. president has recognized that Americans can only be taxed to pay for their own defense or the defense of allies by treaty. The arguments haven’t always been bulletproof, but at least they have acknowledged this principle.
President George W. Bush made his case for the Iraq War based upon Saddam Hussein’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction.” At one point, the administration went so far as to say that Hussein could strike the United States “within 45 minutes.”
Why did the administration go to such lengths to exaggerate Iraq’s capabilities? Because it recognized that only an imminent threat to American citizens would justify a war against Iraq.
“Operation Deliberate Force” in Serbia was recognized as a NATO operation, meaning the United States participated due to a supposed treaty obligation. President Clinton’s attempts to conduct military operations in Africa and Haiti for humanitarian reasons were met with public and congressional opposition. Both interventions were aborted prior to prolonged involvement.
In Korea and Viet Nam, Americans were told war was necessary to prevent “the domino effect,” where one Asian nation after another would fall to communism, which then would spread to the rest of the world. The theory was proven wrong when North Viet Nam took over South Viet Nam and communism still failed. Still, the stated reason for war was to protect Americans from communist aggression.
President Obama has broken new ground. He has argued that not only does the U.S. government have the authority to tax Americans to defend every human being on the planet, but that the president can order military intervention for that reason on his authority alone.
Unfortunately, this has led many to believe that his decision to wait until Congress debates the intervention is some sort of victory for constitutional government.
It’s not. Nowhere in the Constitution is it stated or implied that American taxpayers are financially responsible for the common defense of the whole world.
Military operations are not funded by donations. Taxpayers are compelled to pay them by force. That’s why the Constitution sets limits to what Americans can be taxed for: “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”
As widely as that clause has been interpreted, no one could possibly interpret it to mean defense of Syrian civilians under present circumstances, nor for the citizens of non-treaty partners in any other country.
If the constitution imposes no such financial obligation on American taxpayers, then what does? When and how did American taxpayers consent to it? By what authority is it enforced? When and how will this financial obligation end?
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.