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Repeal the War Powers Resolution and give Constitutional order precedence

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Repeal the War Powers Resolution and give Constitutional order precedence Adobe Stock Image of US Constitution

While Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution grants only Congress the right to declare war, the United States has won and lost (or fought to a draw if it makes you feel better) many wars since Congress last declared war on Dec. 8, 1941. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, Libya, and now Syrian attacks have all taken place without Congress declaring war.

 

The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was a response to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon’s advancement of the Vietnam War and was supposed to reinforce Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution over Article II, Section 2, which makes the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It clearly hasn’t, as President Donald Trump proved the night of April 6 when he launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base after it was determined the Syrian government attacked a rebel ammunition cache holding chemical weapons that killed over 100 people -- none of which were American civilians or soldiers.

 

When Pearl Harbor was bombed on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, war was declared by Congress the very next day. When the Twin Towers came down on 9/11, the war effectively began the very next day, but without a declaration of war from Congress. Those were attacks on US soil, though. This, however, was not in response to an attack on America, which has members of both major political parties throwing a fit, which is uncharacteristic. Most often the party not inhabiting the White House makes a fuss about the president’s overreach. Both Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul think Trump’s military action in Syria violates the Constitution.

 

The War Powers Resolution only requires the commander-in-chief to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing a military attack, and Trump did indeed notify more than two dozen members of Congress of his plan to attack Syria the night of April 6. He did not seek their authorization to do so because it wasn’t required of him thanks to the leeway offered by previous presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom launched attacks without Congress. Hell, George Bush, Sr. won the Gulf War in less than 100 hours. How can Congress expect to take back its Constitutional right to declare war if they allow presidents to bomb for 90 days when it took less than five days to win a war in 1991?

 

The most interesting thing about the War Powers Resolution is that it’s likely unconstitutional, which would make it pretty difficult to replace it. John McCain and Tim Kaine attempted to do so in 2014. They proposed the president should consult Congress before launching a military operation that is expected to last more than a week. It never happened, and it wouldn’t have any teeth today anyways. Bush, Bush, Jr. and Obama have knocked them all out. Drones helped a bit, too.

 

The War Powers Resolution is useless when one person can blow up the entire world in a matter of minutes without deploying a single soldier. War has become a lot like a catch in the NFL. We don’t really know how to define it, but we know it when we see it. And Americans have gotten used to waging war without declaring war. The United States is in a perpetual war against terrorism, and Americans keep waking up everyday, going to work and mostly ignoring what’s happening on the other side of the world. It’s no different than if war isn’t being waged. Americans everyday can safely assume their country is bombing somebody, and ignorantly assume those people had it coming.

 

I’m a big believer in the order of things. That is, the order in which information is presented matters, and that’s how I perceive the US Constitution. Article I holds more weight than Article II, and Amendment I of the Bill of Rights is listed before the Second Amendment for a reason. I mean, the whole reason white folks even stumbled upon this country was in search of religious freedom. And I’m not even religious, but I value the right to a free press and free speech over the right to own a gun. In this case, I think Congress’s right to declare war holds more weight than a president’s right to command the armed forces, and I think the Constitution was written in that order for that reason. While a president can’t declare war, he can control military operations once war is declared. I'm sure the drafters of the Constitution didn't think war would be waged prior to a declaration of war, or that bombs would be built that can blow up countries.

 

I also understand the importance of the president being able to command the armed forces in order to avoid an attack on Americans, and in a nuclear age when one bomb can wipe out an entire country, stopping those attacks is more important than retaliating. That is not the case here. Bush, Jr. didn’t have a very good reason to bomb Iraq, but he really didn’t need one. Neither does Trump with regard to Syria. Allowing Congress to decide whether to declare war might have saved the United States from entering either conflict.

 

I like the idea of checks and balances, but what Congress really wants is to reign in the powers of the president they’ve already given away. And if Congress really wanted that, they should have passed unconstitutional legislation that had some teeth the first time around, because it won’t happen again. That’s why I think the War Powers Resolution should be repealed and Constitutional order given precedence.

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