Taking Back The War Power

In my experience you should not trust an erratic person with great responsibility. You should not, for example, give your American Express Card to a teenager, who does not understand the value of a dollar. You should not lend your car keys to a friend, who has had one too many drinks. You should not sell a gun to a person, who appears angry and unstable.

If Congress is worried about this past election and the President-Elect's cabinet appointments to date, it should take measures to restrain executive power and one power in particular: the war power. Since September 11th the Presidential War Power has exploded without a peep from Congressional Democrats and Republicans. Whereas the President received permission to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, the President did not receive Congressional permission to wage war in Libya and Syria in 2011 and 2014. Moreover, during the past two Presidential Administrations America's use of drone warfare has exploded. Through this program, Presidents have unilaterally waged war abroad without any oversight from the legislature or judiciary. That sounds a lot like a king to me. Presidents, however, have not expanded the executive war power alone. Congress has been silent.

One reason for this silence is that our elected leaders are scared to seem weak on national security. Another reason for this silence is that our elected leaders are scared to take responsibility for any decision to go to war. The final reason for this silence is that our leaders are scared to miss out on the opportunity to take credit for a successful military operation. Such indecision and obsequiousness on both sides of the aisle raises the question: are these people even leaders? If a leader only follows, reacts and acquiesces can he really be a leader?

I do not think Congress will do anything before the inauguration to restrain the Presidential war power. In our current Congress, cowardice, kowtowing and non-conviction is rewarded politically and economically: a member of Congress who does not rock the boat is more likely to be re-elected and is also more likely to be hired as a lobbyist after his "public service" ends. Nevertheless, here is what Congress could do to stop a President from embroiling our nation in another senseless war at a dear cost of American blood, treasure and honor.

Congress has not approved any American war abroad since 2003. As you might have noticed, however, the United States has fought wars in several places. How is this possible? In a constitutional nutshell, the President can only execute laws that Congress passes and this includes laws permitting the country to go to war. (For more on this read the Supreme Court case Youngstown v. Sawyer) If the President acts against a law of Congress, his action is illegal. So how has the President fought wars against ISIS in Iraq and Syria? In an even smaller constitutional nutshell, the President interpreted the 2001 and 2003 laws authorizing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to permit him to go to war against ISIS. Congress did not question this interpretation even though ISIS did not exist when it passed these laws. Congress did not criticize the President for the reasons previously discussed and because ISIS is clearly evil. Nevertheless, this legislative look-the-other-way is a real danger to all of us.

If the President can just interpret laws to take the United States of America to war, he can essentially take America to war when he feels like it or when he thinks it would be politically expedient. This is what Kings used to do and it inspired the Founding Fathers to give Congress and not the President the power to declare war.

Why should one person not be able to declare war? Well first of all, one person cannot fight a war. Second, one person cannot pay for a war. Third, one person cannot shoulder the sacrifices of war. When America entered the Second World War, President Roosevelt said it would be a people's war. Americans volunteered to fight and die for the cause of freedom abroad. Americans also went without creature comforts and paid higher taxes at home. After all, wars cost blood, treasure and, sometimes, national honor.

When the people do not have a say in going to war or when their representatives do not have the courage to question the President's decision to go to war, bad things happen. So how do we fix it?

Congress could repeal the 2001 and 2003 laws permitting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and require the President to get its permission to conduct military operations in the future. This law can categorically reject the President's past interpretation of the same 2001 and 2003 laws to permit waging war against ISIS. If the President wants to fight ISIS, he can ask for Congress' permission. Before any hawks worry that this will let the bad guys get away, realize that no member of congress can refuse a reasonable plan to fight ISIS. Doing so would cost him his job. Put simply, eliminating vicious monsters like ISIS is as American as apple pie.

If this is true, you might ask: what's the point? Well, a member of Congress might never oppose destroying ISIS, but he might oppose invading a Country without any evidence for doing so. Or if a member of Congress fails to oppose such an invasion, a challenger might use support of such a war against him.

For this government to get back on track we all need to take responsibility. Journalists need to report. Voters need to vote. Leaders need to lead by engaging in the decisions that matter most. One of the gravest decisions we can make as a nation is the decision to go to war. No American should have the burden, privilege and power to make it alone.

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