How is it that Congress isn’t screaming at President Obama for usurping its power to take this nation to war against Libya? (Even Bushes #41 and #43 had their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq authorized.) And if Congress isn’t screaming, then why aren’t we? We should be. The power to make war impacts us all: it kills, it costs our dwindling treasury, and it has serious consequences.
Those are just some of the reasons why the Constitution doesn’t allow the president to make the decision to go to war unilaterally — a fact that Obama, himself a former constitutional law professor, knows full well. If fact, when candidate Obama was asked if the president could bomb Iran without authority from Congress, he categorically responded: “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.”
Candidate Obama’s letter perfect response reveals precisely how well he understands the framers’ fear of giving the power to initiate war to the president. As James Madison, principal author of the Constitution wrote, “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war to the Legislature.” Consequently, Article 1, section 8, cl. 11 states that Congress and only Congress can authorize the use of military force against another country. It makes no difference whether it’s called war or a “military action” — Obama’s term for the attack on Libya.
Some have argued that it would have made little difference for Obama to have asked for authority — that Congress would have approved the war anyway. Whether or not that’s true, it’s not the point. Had Obama gone to Congress there would have been the kind of public debate that’s necessary in any country that calls itself a democracy.Michael Ratner is an attorney, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and an expert on many things including impeachment. When he speaks, I think you should listen. Maybe like me, you agree with him, maybe you do not. But at least listen.
And you can hear him once a week on Law and Disorder Radio. What happens to our country when we repeatedly refuse to hold our leaders up to the law? When we repeatedly say, "Oh, it's okay. I like ____ so the laws don't matter?"
I would point out, first of all, that should you be arrested, no judge will move to suggest that a jury not hold you up to the law. I would also point out that if the law does not apply to all, then it is not the law.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today: