Congress & the Presidency: Deciding Humanitarian Intervention

I have chosen to write my paper to answer the following question: What role does Congress play in influencing a President’s decision to militarily intervene in foreign humanitarian crises?  When I chose this topic back in June, I imagined it as being simply the perfect meld of my interests in human rights and foreign policy.  Instead, I’ve found myself investigating a question that is currently splashed across the front pages of the nation’s newspapers as President Obama (yesterday) announced his decision to ask Congress to vote on a possible bombing of Syrian targets. My paper shall not investigate the case of Syria, as the rapid developments in the case make it unsuitable for research; however, I know that this case will motivate me throughout the process and facilitate conversations between my peers and I on the subject.  By living through this decision-making process, I’m sure I’ll gain valuable insight into what questions I should be asking about past cases.


For my paper, I will be investigating several recent historical cases when the President ordered the use of military force on humanitarian grounds. The political science literature predicts that Congress should usually be disinterested and disempowered to oppose any such Presidential ventures: as the thinking goes, Congress isn’t as motivated by any international legacy (as the President is), Congress lacks the foreign policy intell to make informed decisions, and Congress has limited legal ability to hobble the President.  I’m looking forward to working through several cases to test these propositions and determine if Congress’ behavior is any different for this subset of cases (humanitarian intervention) than it is said to be for general foreign military actions.

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