“War Powers Act” Repeatedly Ignored by Presidents

Article I, Section Eight Clause 11 of the Constitution says that “The Congress shall have power… To declare war…”  In Article II, Section 2 the Constitution says “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States…”  Clearly the authors of the Constitution intended that Congress should have the sole responsibility for declaring war and that the President would have the power to command the troop once war has been declared, a clear division of power regarding war.  The reason behind this is was because the founding fathers had just gain their independence from a monarchy who had unlimited power to do whatever he wanted with his military forces, so they felt it essential that a division of powers should exist to limit the powers of the President to just commanding the armed forces.

However what is not clearly stated is what powers does the President have to engage troops in conflicts that are not engagements of war such as when our troops are being attacked or when another nation attacks a U.S. territory or other military emergencies.  I feel it self evident that the framers of the Constitution wanted to limit the power of the Executive Office therefore any engagement short of an attack on our shores should be subject to Congregational oversight.

Over the years the presidency has gained more and more power to engage in military actions independent of Congress primarily because a single person can response quicker to military emergencies.  President James Monroe implemented the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 declaring that the United States was the self appointed protectorate of all the Americas in order to curb European expansionism in those regions thus reserving expansionism exclusively for the United States.  Thus European interventions in any of the countries of the Americas could be considered an attack upon the United State allowing the President to take military action independent of Congress as protecting US interests.  These were considered policing actions, not wars.

Then came the Cold War and Bay of Pigs, Korea, and Vietnam conflicts which were also considered police actions because the U.S. symbolically extended the Monro Doctrine to include all the Free World.  Again these wars in which tens of thousands of American soldiers were killed were considered merely police actions, not outright wars.

Towards the end of the Vietnam conflict Americans had enough of police actions so Congress pass the War Powers Resolution (Act) in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto to better define the division in power between Congress and the President regarding police actions and the declaration of wars.  Public Law 93-148, 87 Stat. 555 which has the same weight as any law is divided into 9 Section:

Section 1: The title of the resolution “War Powers Resolution“.

Section 2: Clarifies the intent of the Constitution that only Congress has the right to declare wars and the President as Commander in Chief can engage troops into combat (1) after war has been declared by Congress, (2) specific statutory authorization from Congress, or (3) an attacked upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

Section 3: The President shall consult with Congress before placing troops into harms way, and shall keep Congress well informed until the troops are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed

Section 4: Essentially says that if U.S. troops are engaged in a military action that is not a war declared by Congress that the President must immediately submit a Report justifying the engagement to the Speaker of the House.  Congress can elect to intervene by, for example, withdrawing such troops or continue the engagement.  (This intervention is considered a “legislative veto” which is not submitted to the President for signature or veto so may not carry the same weight as normal laws.  Thus there is some constitutional question as to what weight it actually carries and is one reason subsequent presidents have considered the War Power Resolution to be unconstitutional.)

Section 5-8: Congress has 60 day after the Report has been submitted by the President before they can intervention as described in Section 4.  This section also outlines the procedure, definitions and rules to be followed in formulating and approving a bill that contains the intervention.

Section 9: This section called the “separability provision” states that if any part of the law is held to be invalid,  the rest of the law shall not be considered invalid.

The War Powers Resolution (Act) has been ignored repeatedly by presidents because they do not consider it carrying the weight of law as commented in Section 4 and thus unconstitutional.  Thus presidents continue to declare length police actions and wars with impunity.  Presidents can convince the public that a war is justified without insuring that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President are employed to determine the wisdom of committing troops into highly risky engagements.

The President of the United States, of all people in the world, has at his disposal the most deadly and powerful weapons in the world.  Yet according to the Constitutional “The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress…”  So presidents have been in violation of their Constitutional responsibilities as well as the War Powers Resolution.  For one person to hold the power of life and death over mankind is far too risky.  We have already seen how one president declared war upon Iraq with faulty information more than a decade ago, a war and occupation that we are still struggling to extract ourselves from.  Perhaps we might have not rushed into this war had Congress had a chance to question the faulty intelligence that President Bush was fed by the CIA.  He was looking for an excuse to engage President Saddam Hussein and did so with scanty and inaccurate information about nuclear and biological weapons.

It make me very nervous knowing that our president of these United State, the most powerful military power in the world, is capable of get us into another long, very costly and drawn out war as possibly could have happened in Syria recently as well as elsewhere.

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