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Detroit News - Reassert Constitutional War Powers

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By Representative Justin Amash

U.S. Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) urged Congress to reassert its constitutional role in determining whether the U.S. goes to war in an op-ed in today's Detroit News.

Friday marks the War Powers Resolution's 60-day deadline for the President to cease military force against Libya. Although the administration previously has said it will act "consistent with" the War Powers Resolution, it has not stated it will stop the Libyan strikes by today's legal deadline.

"In fact, the administration has been violating the WPR from the moment the first bomb dropped on Libya. The WPR allows the president to launch an attack without Congress' approval only in self-defense. Even administration officials recognize our involvement in Libya is offensive, although, they claim, justified by a broad humanitarian concern," Amash noted.

Amash continued, "Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war. Though the President has used the term "kinetic military action,' our action in Libya using warplanes, bombs and missiles is a war, just as Libya would be declaring a war on us if they attacked our homeland."

Amash is the author of H.R. 1212, the leading bill in Congress to force the President to obtain congressional authorization before continuing the bombing.

The full op-ed is printed below:

Not one young soldier will come home tonight, when the 60-day deadline for President Obama to terminate force in Libya passes.

The War Powers Resolution (WPR), enacted at the end of the Vietnam War, places that 60-day time limit on the executive when Congress has not authorized military action.

In fact, the administration has been violating the WPR from the moment the first bomb dropped on Libya. The WPR allows the president to launch an attack without Congress' approval only in self-defense. Even administration officials recognize our involvement in Libya is offensive, although, they claim, justified by a broad humanitarian concern.

Candidate Obama was unequivocal: "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." Just last week, the administration told a Senate committee that the president would act "consistent with" the WPR, which means either seeking congressional authority or withdrawing troops at the first opportunity.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war. Though the President has used the term "kinetic military action," our action in Libya using warplanes, bombs and missiles is a war, just as Libya would be declaring a war on us if they attacked our homeland.

On March 29, I introduced H.R. 1212, a bill to require the president to seek congressional approval for the war in Libya. And while my bill has received strong and growing bipartisan support from more than a dozen members of Congress, it's unlikely that congressional leadership will permit a vote on it. The status quo provides cover for Congress, by allowing the people's representatives to complain about the president's actions without committing to a position for or against the war.

This strategic ambiguity still is far preferable to the latest constitutional abdication making its way around the Hill. Next week, the House will consider a worldwide authorization of use of military force, affirmatively and pre-emptively giving the president unprecedented power to launch attacks.

Under the new authorization, the president may "detain belligerents" indefinitely, anywhere in the world, even if they are not associated with al-Qaida. The president also is empowered to use force against people who support an organization that "substantially support[s] al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities" against the United States. An American citizen who gives money to a charity that, unbeknownst to him, gives money to forces associated with the Taliban, could be targeted by the U.S. Armed Forces under the authorization.

This has been tried before. According to congressional leaders involved in drafting the authorization of use of military force in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the White House's draft at the time included an open-ended authorization of force "to deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States" regardless of location or connection to the terrorist attacks. Congress refused and instead included a Sept. 11 nexus in the final authorization.

The irony is rich.

The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize for raising the United States' international standing and who campaigned against his predecessor's foreign policy, may now sign into law a George W. Bush-era war power grab. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress can't delegate away this Constitutional power fast enough, even though a Republican Congress resisted giving a similarly broad power to a Republican president in the wake of the greatest terrorist attack in our history.

Our Armed Forces are stretched thin across three theaters and constrained by a record deficit in Washington. And while we enter our 10th year of sacrificing blood and treasure to build democracies, a home-grown democratic revolution in the Arab world has overturned several dictatorships, largely without America's help.

There has been no better time to regain our Constitutional balance and check the president's war powers. Congress is a co-equal branch -- and it should start acting like it.


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