Congress Looks to Revise, Expand President's War Powers

By:  Jack Kenny
Congress Looks to Revise, Expand President's War Powers

The Constitution requires that Congress decide whether and when we will go to war, yet Congress chooses instead to "authorize" and expand power for the president to decide.

President Obama has pledged he will not sign any law to expand the president's war-making authority under the joint resolution known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by both houses of Congress three days after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. What's more, the president said in the major foreign policy address he delivered at National Defense University nearly two weeks ago that he looked forward to "engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate." Yet in rejecting the concept of a "boundless 'global war on terror,'" Obama promised a continued "series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." These efforts will continue in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in places such as Yemen, Somali, and North Africa, he said.

The question he did not acknowledge, not to mention answer, is where does the president find the legal basis for wielding that military force in all those far-off places if the congressional authority for using it has been repealed?

The AUMF says:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Under the Bush and Obama administrations, it has been claimed as authority for everything from the invasion of Afghanistan to extensive bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and covert operations in who knows where. The Bush administration claimed its authority to defend the United States covered warrantless monitoring of Americans' international phone calls, and Obama has claimed the power to target individuals overseas, including American citizens, for killing by drone attack. Both administrations have claimed the power to imprison terror suspects, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely and without trial, and Congress has codified that power in sections of the National Defense Authorization Act. The enemy has been redefined to include not only al-Qaeda and those who harbored or assisted the 9/11 attackers, but "associated forces," some of which, such as the Pakistani Taliban and al-Shabaab in Somalia, were not yet in existence in on September 11, 2001.

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Photo of U.S.S. Wisconsin firing guns during Operation Desert Storm

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