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Foreign Affairs

Who Wields the Sword?

I previously criticized GOP complaints that Obama did not seek a formal declaration of war or permit congressional debate on the issue. However, I did not intend to address the propriety of Obama's having failed to seek any form of congressional approval. Obama's decision to forgo the sort of legislative mandate which George W. Bush sought and received has puzzled many - especially in light of Obama's own words on the subject from 2007.

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

A commenter on this site suggested:

Obama doesn't feel he needs Congressional authorization when he's just received authorization from a source he deems more legitimate, id est, the United Nations.

It does seem to be inescapably obvious that approval by the Arab League and United Nations was sufficient for Obama to conduct military action. U.S. approval was deemed unnecessary. Unless Obama's views on the inherent war powers of the presidency have evolved, he must either believe that there was no time to consult Congress or intended to demonstrate the authority of international law within the context of the American Constitution.

The latter would be the most serious political declaration of the Obama presidency. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Discussions - 7 Comments

Question -- in today's view of things, is the deployment of unmanned drones and missles considered "war" in the sense of needing congressional approval?

I ask because it seems we are increasingly defining "war" as the placement of combat troops on foreign soil.

Is it possible Obama -- and future presidents, for that matter -- will view the deployment of unmanned technologies not "war" in the historic sense, and thus not subject to congressional approval?

The man is a bus driver - he threw the Constitution, American freedom and policies under the bus a long time ago. Why in the H E double toothpicks does this surprise anyone?

A journalist certainly ought to ask Obama Justin's question and demand a one or the other answer, but I think the time rationale was the one--he had dithered on the decision, and had been probably overly solicitous of UN and Arab League consultation timelines, so that the fate of Benghazi had become seriously pressing. Another day or so for the Congressional approval could have jeopardized the paramount end.

That's not to say that he would have done it without the Arab League call. But if that was his decision, to not do it without their call, it could well be on strategic grounds(and maybe not the best one) as opposed to on "authorization" grounds.

His office gives him, contrary to his 2007 comments, the authorization. The Constitution interpreted correctly does not bind the President to only use force when war is declared, nor to things like the War Powers Act, even as it implicitly encourages the sort of consultation w/ Congress illustrated by W's resolution-seeking. Hamilton, as per usual, had it right. A dangerous truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Don's question is a whole additional can of worms...and more factually speaking, does anyone know if there is legislative authorization that covers the ongoing drone strikes? Does it fall under the initial resolutions regarding our invasion of Afghanistan?

Look, this is simple: When out of power, NOTHING done by "those people" is correct/legal (unless of course we on the Left approve of it). When we are in power (i.e., the Left), then we LIKE everything and everything is correct/legal and above-board.


As I've said before, the only real principle of the Left is POWER. Everything else is a means to that end.

Good question, Don: Bush Admin relied on inherent exec power, Obama on the Iraq War Resolution!

This is all about timing. If the Libyan mission turns into a long war, than President Obama is in trouble. If the Rebels overthrow Gaddafi by Summertime President Obama is a hero.

Those of you who want Congress to declare war; you shouldn't be asking yourselves whether the president's authority should be circumscribed by Congress' power to declare war... The question you should be asking yourselves is whether you want the president to have a free hand to commit troops and make us responsible for Libya for generations to come--by Congress declaring war. Congress voting to give the president a ton of more power? Doesn't circumscribe the power of the president.

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