A Texas lawmaker has introduced a measure in the House to “fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution” that only Congress — and not the president — has the power to commit U.S. military forces to battle.
The measure was introduced by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, last Tuesday, and is called the “Constitutional War Powers Resolution of 2001,” or H.J.R. 27. It currently has no co-sponsors.
The bill, which has been referred to the House committees on Armed Services, Rules, and the Judiciary, seeks to “repeal the War Powers Resolution to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution that Congress and not the President has the power to declare war, and for other purposes.”
The War Powers Resolution was first passed in 1973, following eight years of war in Southeast Asia. At the time, U.S. forces were still involved in a conflict between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam without a formal declaration of war, though by then the administration of President Richard M. Nixon had begun a substantial withdrawal of U.S. forces.
All U.S. forces were pulled out of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, in 1975, just hours before North Vietnamese forces invaded the city and collapsed the democratic regime. About 500,000 troops were “in-country” at the peak of the war, in 1968-69.
Before Vietnam, U.S. forces were committed to war against communist North Korea, from 1950 to 1953 — also without a formal declaration by Congress. About 58,000 troops were lost in each of those conflicts and many thousands are still thought to be missing in action.
The last time Congress formally declared war was against Japan, Germany and Italy in 1941, the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7.
The closest Congress came to formally declaring war in recent history was just prior to the start of operations against Iraq during the 1990-91 Gulf War, in response to Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait.
But even then, Congress simply passed a resolution supporting President George H. W. Bush’s deployment of U.S. forces to the Gulf; those forces were already being deployed by the time the resolution was offered.
Paul’s bill would forbid a president from sending armed forces abroad into hostilities or imminent hostilities without a congressional declaration of war, unless the U.S. was attacked, said a statement released by the War and Law League, or WALL, a non-partisan, San Francisco-based group opposed to presidential war-making authority.
Also, Paul’s bill would ban funds for “unlawful war activity and facilitate lawsuits to enjoin unlawful actions.”
And, according to the bill’s language, if passed it would apply to “the deployment of elements of the Armed Forces before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution.”
WALL, a three-year-old advocacy group, said Paul is looking for bipartisan co-sponsors for his measure.
The group claims that nearly 113,000 Americans “and millions of others abroad” have been killed in “wars started illegally by U.S. presidents of both parties since 1950.”
“Until President Truman began his three-year ‘police action’ in Korea without the authorization of Congress, nobody in government had ever suggested that a president had the legal right to initiate war,” said information posted on WALL’s website. “The Supreme Court has established that illegality does not become legal by its repetition.”
U.S. forces in Korea fought under the command of the United Nations, but the action in Vietnam was not U.N.-related.
The group says the U.S. Constitution clearly defines Congress as the sole authority for deciding when and where U.S. forces will wage war.
Paul said unconstitutional wars were the “gravest of crimes” after former President Bill Clinton ordered a 1998 attack against Iraq — an action critics suggest was launched to redirect attention away from his impeachment in the House for lying under oath about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“It is commonly, but incorrectly, assumed that a president has the authority to send troops into battle,” Paul said. And until Congress reclaims its “sole authority over matters of war … more young men will die senseless deaths.”
To support its position, WALL quoted one of America’s earliest presidents, Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Congress alone is constitutionally invested with the power of changing our condition from peace to war. …”
Also, WALL said that another founder, Alexander Hamilton, noted in writings that a president is the nation’s military commander-in-chief and is “nothing more than … first General or Admiral” — and only after Congress formally declares war.
Moreover, in a 1798 letter to Jefferson, James Madison wrote, in support of Congress’ sole war-making powers: “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.”
H.J.R. 27 is part of a four-bill “Constitutional Restoration Package” that Paul has introduced. The other bills would ban presidential use of executive orders to bypass congressional legislation; nullify any treaty that contradicts the Constitution; and would declare the U.S. “a constitutionally-limited republic.”