The Constitution and War

When the Constitution was written, war was a lot simpler — for one thing, it took a long time. You had to move armies and ships and supplies and well, this just wasn’t done overnight.

So the Founding Fathers, wary of letting the President have too much power as Commander-in-Chief, wrote Article I, Section 8, which gave Congress the power to “declare war.”Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill

They haven’t done that since World War II.

So now Obama is about to take actions against Syria that, by any standard, is an act of “war”. But we’ve allowed our Presidents to do this so many times that no one is seriously suggesting that this is unConstitutional any more. (Well, except for the Obama haters, most of whom had absolutely no problem with GW Bush doing the same thing, so we can ignore them.)

But it’s still not that simple. The Constitution does not define what a “war” is or what the process is for Congress to declare it, nor does it prevent the President as Commander-in-Chief from ordering troops anywhere he wants and so on.

During Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act which severely limited the President’s power to keep troops somewhere without congressional approval. It has not been enforced since then.

On the other hand, Congress did approve Presidential actions in Iraq and Afghanistan even though they never officially called it a “war.”

Then there’s the question of treaties. If this is done with UN approval, maybe foreign treaties take precedence over the Constitution, like when we went into Libya. (Well, with drones.)

So as our President becomes more and more imperial during wartime, we seem to be sitting back and going along for the ride.

This is especially disturbing right now with Syria, because a vast majority of Americans want us to stay away from that terrible place (How often do you get 75% of Americans to agree on anything?).

I’d say this is a perfect time for Congress to step in and say “no” to the President, but sadly the vast majority of Congress is in agreement with him.

4 thoughts on “The Constitution and War

  1. I think the answer is that the president SHOULD consult with Congress but he doesn’t actually have to.
    It doesn’t seem like anyone on the left or the right is behind the administration’s interest in intervening in Syria.
    Since neither side is worth backing, I’m not sure exactly what he’s trying to accomplish.
    If it’s defending the abstract principle that we’ll punish anyone who uses Weapons of Mass Destruction, that ship sailed when we didn’t attack Iraq when it used them against the Kurds and Iran.
    Also, I’m not quite sure why it’s okay to shoot or stab people to death but gassing them is wrong..


  2. Excuse me, but I hate Obama much less than Dubya, and I still say that it’s unConstitutional. The Commander-in-Chief only gets to make snap decisions against actions which pose a direct and dire threat against the U.S.; do you see anything that resembles that here?


  3. Sadly, I agree and disagree with Mark. The problem is what represents a threat? When Bush Sr, (back in 1992, when i was 18, so i remember it quite well), sent soldiers over (granted it was mostly bombing, but soldiers were sent) into Kuwait for Desert Shield, was that War? Whats the point of a standing army? Is it just for wartime? Im no warmonger, and I dont think we should be going into Syria, but is it appropriate for the united states to get into conflicts? Do they have to be wars before we get involved? I dont know the answer for sure. I think congress should be involved, but then again, do we trust the congress to say yes or no to ANYTHING, much less anything important.

    Its a tough question.


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