Friday, April 1, 2011

Who Has the Power of War in the United States?

"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" - Barack Obama

As the Commander in Chief of the United States Military, most presidents in the 20th to the 21st century have assumed the power to send the United States military to any conflict they decided was worth it. They have claimed that under Article II Section II of the Constitution that it is the right of the President to use the United States military to fight in any war or conflict they deem necessary. The problem with this view of the President is that anyone who believes this has not read the entire Constitution.

The clause of the Constitution that so many believe gives the President power to invade any country he chooses actually 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 (The Constitution).”
From this reading it is absolutely true that the President is the Commander in Chief of the United States Military, but only when “called into the actual service of the United States.” That is as far as the powers given to the President stretch when it comes to war as given to him by the Constitution. So who can call the military of the United States into service? According to the Constitution the only branch able to call the military into service is Congress. Article I Section 8 of the Constitution states that only Congress has the power to “To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water (The Constitution).'”

To make sure you understand that passage, let me define letters of marque and reprisal. A letter of marque is an action by a nation to hire mercenaries (pirates, rebels, militias, etc.) to attack another nation for them. A reprisal is when a state uses military actions just short of war to punish a nation for wrongdoings. Most of the time reprisals are used when a specific wrongdoing has been aimed at the nation granting the reprisal. Reprisals can come in the form of capturing a ship, taking hostages or bombing anti-aircraft weaponry.

Those politicians who are in favor of President Obama sending missiles into Libya are Republicans who think Obama should turn Libya into the same mess Bush turned Iraq into. But even many Democrats who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan support Obama’s war even though it will inevitably turn into a mess like Iraq. Unfortunately, there is little Congress can do now short of impeachment. They can pass a new law saying the president cannot go to war without congressional approval, but why would the President worry about that law when he ignores the supreme law of the land, the Constitution?

To try and stop presidents from sending soldiers into war without congressional approval, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This act actually had the opposite effect that Congress had wanted. It states that, like the Constitution, the military can only be sent into action with Congressional approval except when "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” At this point it expands the President’s power by giving him the power to go to war, without congressional approval, when the United States has been attacked. Under the War Powers Resolution in this situation the president has 48 hours to alert the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. After Congress is alerted to the use of troops, the President has 60 days to do what ever he wishes with the troops. After 60 days if Congress has not approved of the military conflict or passed a Declaration of War the President must withdraw all troops engaged in hostilities (The War Powers Resolution).

The problem with letting the President use the troops without congressional approval for 60 days is that the President has 2 months to create a war in which Congress sometimes has no choice but to then approve. In short, when trying to limit the power of the President when war is concerned, they gave him free reign to do as he wishes.

Since passing the resolution, there have been 118 reports sent to Congress about unconstitutional wars by Presidents, but only one of those reports have stated that the act was in response to an imminent threat to the nation, like the resolution declared they were all supposed to do according to section 4(a)(1).This shows how Politicians are willing to disregard the law no matter if it is the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, or an act passed by congress separate from the Constitution. How many of these presidents have been held accountable for breaking the law? None of them. Impeachments have been threatened, but none of them have gone through the process for their illegal actions regarding war. 

The United Nations Security Council is an unelected, international body that sets itself above the sovereignty of national laws. The Security Council has five permanent members (including the United States) that can send the United Nations Peace Keepers (And international military made of soldiers from different countries) into any conflict regardless of the Constitution and other war laws in the United States of America or any other nation. In other words, due to this small, unelected body the President can illegally send soldiers into conflicts without congressional approval or an imminent threat, as was shown with the recent attacks on Libya.

The powers of war that the President has is more limited than most Americans realize. After more than half a century of undeclared wars fought by the President it has become unwritten law that the president has complete control over the military. That goes back to the old saying, “If you repeat a lie long enough it then becomes truth.”