One of the criticisms of President Obama’s conduct of our foreign affairs (and of our domestic affairs, frankly) is that he disregards statutes and the provisions of the Constitution whenever it is convenient for him to do so. This extends to the war powers inherent in the presidency under Article II. Both in Libya and, now, in Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIS, Obama has been accused of acting without authorization from Congress, either under the specific War Powers Act of 1973 or Article I of the Constitution, the latter of which grants Congress the sole power to declare war. With regard to ISIS, Obama has claimed authorization under the existing Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda, since ISIS is an al Qaeda “spawn.” Not surprisingly, critics call that a stretch.
One of the critics is Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has often accused Obama of acting unconstitutionally. At PJM, Bridget Johnson reports that Paul has plans to assert Congress’ authority over the war-power by introducing a bill to declare war on ISIS:
The resolution would kill the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force and put a one-year expiration date on the 2001 Afghanistan AUMF. The administration has been leaning upon those war on terror statutes to conduct current operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
It notes that “the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State has declared war on the United States and its allies” and “presents a clear and present danger to United States diplomatic facilities in the region, including our embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.”
“The state of war between the United States and the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared pursuant to Article I, section 8, clause 11, of the United States Constitution,” the resolution states.
“The President is hereby authorized and directed to use the Armed Forces of the United States to protect the people and facilities of the United States in Iraq and Syria against the threats posed thereto by the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
The bill also contains specific limitations on the authorization to use force, namely action is to be limited to ISIS and its “affiliates,” and specifies that ground troops can only be used to protect Americans and American facilities, and in certain limited offensive operations.
I have my quibbles with this proposal (1), but overall I support the idea. Obama has created a constitutional crisis by pushing the limits of the presidency’s powers past their breaking point. We’re running the risk of passively acquiescing to our transformation from a republic with separate, co-equal branches of government, each with their own powers, to more of a strongman presidential model, such as in France (2).
To prevent that, Congress needs to start acting to jealously guard its prerogatives and assert its status, as Madison described several times in the Federalist Papers. Senator Paul’s bill to declare war may be a good start to redressing the balance.
(1) Namely that I believe US “boots on the ground” in offensive operations will be necessary to defeat the new Caliphate; the Arab forces in the area are worthless.
(2) Not that I’m implying that France is a dictatorship — far from it. But the presidency under the Gaullist system is quite a bit more powerful than the legislature.