The American Heritage dictionary’s definition of war is, “A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states or parties.” The war in Iraq falls into this category. The political objective of the war (in Iraq) was to change the government of Iraq, namely the dictator Saddam Hussein, by a military means. The “Shock and Awe” tactics employed by the Coalition accomplished this very hastily. That was a war. The problem with this and other modern conflicts (there have been over 200 military deployments without Congressional approval) is that only Congress has the authority to declare war, according to the United States Constitution.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states that, “The Congress shall have the power to declare war.” The founding fathers wanted to make sure that when we went to war there would be some type of consensus among the citizens/government on that decision to go to war. James Madison, one of the authors of the Constitution, said in 1793, “the fundamental doctrine of the Constitution is that the power to declare war is fully and exclusively vested to the legislature … the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.” This also builds on one of the cornerstones of our democracy, separation of power. The founding fathers did not want power to be concentrated in the power of a few people.
History has shown that it is unwise to enter wars without a formal declaration. From my parents and my history classes, I have often learned from my elders how Vietnam was a war and how it was never declared. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave President Lyndon B. Johnson a blank check to use military force against North Vietnam. This is very similar to the Resolution via which Congress gave President George W. Bush the blank check in Iraq.
The resolution on Iraq states: “The president is authorized to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, and (2) enforce all relevant United Nation Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.” President Harry Truman also avoided getting a declaration of war from Congress by going to the United Nations for the Korean War.
These were all conflicts in which a political objective was accomplished (or attempted) by using the military. Many historians agree that it was an error to give the president a blank check with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. We must learn from the mistakes made in the past, so they do not happen again.
The main problem associated with us invading and occupying a country such as Iraq without a formal declaration of war is that it makes the conflict an illegitimate conflict, domestically and globally. This leads to a lesser chance of the United States gaining international support, to help with the fiscal and manpower burden posed by the current conflict. The United States is increasingly becoming known as a nation that has a “pre-emptive” doctrine when dealing with potential enemies. We currently look like a “rogue” state hell bent on single handily taking on the world, all on our own. With a more broad International support we would not look like an “occupying force,” but rather like the “liberator” we announced we would be.
We as a country need to ask our political leaders to stop getting us into wars unless the citizens through our elected representatives approve them. The Constitution clearly states the Congress holds the power to declare war, not the president. Our founding fathers set this country up wanted to make it extremely hard for this nation to go to war, our recent presidents have broken our founding fathers’ ideals. Presidents need to stop asking Congress to pass a “resolution” instead of a formal declaration of war. Furthermore, Congress needs to quit passing these “resolutions” that allow presidents to “skirt around” the United States Constitution. Only then will the world begin to admire us again, not despise us.
Allen Spence is a junior majoring in economics.