“Humanitarian Emergency” Does Not Suspend the Constitution on War Powers

President Barack Obama discusses the situation in Iraq before departing via Marine One, outside the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 2014. "I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks," Obama said of the military and humanitarian intervention to counter the Islamic State group. "This is going to be a long-term project." (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / The New York Times)

Robert Naiman

President Obama gave a speech Thursday night purporting to justify today’s US military strikes in Iraq. Unfortunately, the President’s speech failed to clearly answer key questions related to the issue of Congressional war powers under the US Constitution and the War Powers Resolution; that is, he failed to clearly explain why his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq without Congressional authorization is Constitutional and legal.

These questions are crucial because regardless of what you think right now of the President’s current military action – and the situation is still unfolding, and it is not at all clear right now what the limits, if any, of the President’s action will be – Americans who want the US to be using military force less frequently are engaged in a “long game” against the Presidency – not just this President, any President – about the Constitutional, legal, and political scope of the President for unilateral decisions on the use of force in the absence of an attack or imminent threat of attack on the US.

And every time the President – this President or any President – is allowed to “cut corners” on the Constitutional question of Congressional war powers, it sets a bad precedent for the future, eroding a key Constitutional, democratic speed bump against unnecessary wars of choice. And every time the President – this President or any other – succeeds in tearing a hole in the Constitutional and democratic fence that the Framers wisely constructed to try to impede the President – any President – from launching unnecessary wars of choice, it’s a key responsibility of people who want choosing war to be as hard as it should be to try to rebuild the fence.

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