Congress moves to reclaim its war powers | Kiowa County Press

The aftermath of a US drone strike in January 2020 that killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani. Iraqi Prime Minister’s Press Office, via AP

Sarah Burns, Rochester Institute of Technology

Mid-July 2021, a bipartisan and ideologically diverse group of senators proposed a new bill which, if passed, would significantly change the relative amount of power the President and Congress have on US military operations.

Whether this bill passes as is, with significant changes, or not at all, its proposal signals an effort by lawmakers to regain power over military actions and spending that Congress has gradually shed over decades. It also puts pressure on presidents to more clearly assess their foreign policy goals, to determine whether military action is, in fact, appropriate and justified.

As I demonstrated in my researchEven if the War Powers Resolution 1973 tried to constrain presidential power after the disasters of the Vietnam War, he contains many shortcomings that presidents have exploited to act unilaterally. For example, it allows presidents to engage in military operations without congressional approval for up to 90 days.

Following this shift from legislative to presidential control, American foreign policy has become less deliberative and the administrations of both parties enjoy significant control over whether the United States calls on the armed forces to deal with developments abroad.

Setting new standards

This bill would close that loophole, forcing presidents to more clearly explain their actions to Congress and the public. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidents have attempted to circumvent congressional oversight and constraints by citing vague concerns such as “national security”, “regional security” or the need to “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe”, when launching military operations. But they have generally not given Congress more concrete information about the nature of the operation or its expected duration.

The new bill establishes a clear definition of which military activities must be reported to Congress and by when. This is particularly important given the ambiguities that previous administrations have exploited. In 2011, a State Department attorney argued that airstrikes in Libya may continue beyond warpower resolution’s 90-day deadline because there were no ground troops involved. By this logic, any future president could wage an indefinite bombing campaign without congressional scrutiny.

The bill would also require the president to provide an estimate of the cost of the operation and outline the mission objectives, which could help Congress determine whether a military operation had remained within or exceeded expected limits.

Executive power increases

A man in a coat and tie signs a document.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the United States’ declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941. United States National Archives

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor dragged the United States into World War II, Congress had wielded his powers of war, prevent President Franklin D. Roosevelt to join Britain, Australia and other nations in battle.

But in the wake of the attack, Congress began giving the president more control over the military, engage in less surveillance for fear of being portrayed as undermining the war effort.

After the end of World War II, unlike previous eras, Congress continued to relinquish these powerslargely by refusing to rein in presidential actions that overwhelmed the power of Congress.

Congress never authorized war in Korea; Harry Truman used a UN Security Council Resolution as a legal justification. Congress vote explicitly opposing the invasion of Cambodia didn’t stop Richard Nixon from doing it anyway. Even after the Cold War, Bill Clinton regularly acted unilaterally to dealing with humanitarian crises Where continued threats from leaders like Saddam Hussein.

After 9/11, Congress ceded more of its power much faster. A week after the attacks, Congress passed a sweeping Authorization to use military forceauthorizing the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against nations, organizations or persons whom it considers to have planned, authorized, committed or aided in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

In one follow-up 2002 authorization, Congress went even further, allowing the president “to use the armed forces… as he deems necessary and appropriate in order to defend national security” and “to implement all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”.

In the two decades since their passage, four presidents have used these authorizations to justify all sorts of military actions, targeted assassinations terrorists in years of struggle against the Islamic State group, which continues to this day. This approach provides little to no congressional scrutiny on the control of military affairs exercised by the president.

Demonstrators hold signs opposing the war.
Protesters outside the US Capitol in January 2020 called on Congress to limit the president’s powers to use the military. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

War threats

The Biden administration has called for more congressional control over military actionsclaiming that the powers granted in 2001 and 2002 were too broad and invited power-hungry presidents to abuse them.

And yet Biden said he didn’t need anything beyond the Constitution to launch attacks in Syria in February and June 2021, saying he was doing so in defense of US forces. In mid-July 2021, Biden used the power of permissions to launch a drone strike in Somalia against fundamentalist al-Shabab fighters.

But perhaps the most chilling use of these sweeping powers came in January 2020, when President Donald Trump used the 2002 authorization to justify a deadly drone strike against a respected member of the Iranian governmentMajor General Qassim Soleimani, without consulting Congress or publicly explaining why the attack was necessaryeven to this day.

The murder of Soleimani, who held a position in Iran equivalent to that of Director of the American CIAhas only been described by the Trump administration as “decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist from threatening the lives of Americans. “Trump’s Later Promises That Iran”never“possessing a nuclear weapon were also supported by the idea that Congress had effectively authorized him to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Tensions – and fears of war – spiked but then slowly fadedwhen Iran responded with missile attacks on two US bases in Iraqand Trump played down the severity of the resulting injuries to the American military. But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has continued to pledge revenge for the murder of Soleimani, leaving open the possibility of an Iranian attack at any time. Under the current legal structure, a US response to this could come without Congressional notification or approval.

The current Congressional effort is noteworthy because it aims to make presidents accountable to Congress for a broader range of military actions, and to end the broad and sweeping power of the 2001 and 2002 authorizations that effectively allowed the presidents to do anything with the US military anywhere in the world. the world without being held accountable at home.

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The conversation

Sarah Burnsassociate professor of political science, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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