In 1964, an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin between a US naval vessel, the USS Maddox, and a North Vietnamese naval ship led to the creation of the Asia Resolution. This Resolution allowed President Johnson to take military action in support of our allies in Southeast Asia. The US Navy continues to patrol international waters and may experience similar incidents in the Middle East, specifically in the Strait of Hormuz. Could Congress create a similar resolution to empower the President to act in support of our allies in the Middle East?
Article I, Section 8, paragraphs 11 through 16 of the Constitution of the United States of America specifically grants all power to declare and support war to Congress. (Washington, Langdon and al.) Prior to the passing of the resolution, several Presidents had ignored Congressional authority and conducted military operations without its approval.
“Franklin Roosevelt steered the United States into a sea war against Germany before the nation formally declared war. And Truman, terming the intervention a “police action,” plunged into Korea without authorization from Congress. “(Karnow 359)
On August 2, 1964, there was an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, located off the coast of North Vietnam, between a US naval vessel, the USS Maddox, and a North Vietnamese naval ship. (Karnow 367-368) Five days later, on August 7, the United States Congress passed the Asia Resolution, Public Law 88-408, which allowed President Johnson to take military action in support of our allies in Southeast Asia. The resolution gave the President authority to conduct military operations in Asia without a Congressional declaration of war. (Karnow 376) This resolution was Congress signing a blank check that pulled us into a lengthy and costly war in Vietnam.
The War Powers Acts of 1941 granted the President greater domestic authority to oversee war operations during World War II. The two Acts were to expire immediately following the end of the war, and any special powers granted to the President would immediately revert to either Congress or the states. (Wiki) The Asia Resolution contained no such provision.
After the end of the conflict in Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to prevent the President from involving the US in armed conflict without the express permission of Congress. President Nixon vetoed the resolution on October 24, 1973, but both the House and the Senate overrode the veto on November 7, 1973. (Turner) Congress had reclaimed its Constitutional powers to declare and fund wars, or had it?
Professor Robert F. Turner proposes “… the guiding principle for many in Congress has been to avoid any risk of accountability in the event there should be ‘another Vietnam.’” He goes on to state, “the War Powers Resolution has turned out to be the perfect solution.” (Turner)
On September 11, 2001, members of an Arab terrorist group hijacked four commercial airplanes, resulting in the death of 3,000 American and foreign citizens on US soil. Congress passed Public Law 107-40 on September 18, 2001 authorizing the use of military force against the unidentified assailants and anyone who assisted them in their attacks. President George Bush interpreted this authorization in the same manner that Johnson interpreted the Asia Resolution and attacked areas where known terrorists and their associates openly operated.
Commenting on a proposed amendment to the “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde said:
“The whole point of the joint resolution we are considering this evening is to clear away legal underbrush that might otherwise interfere with the ability of our President to respond to the treacherous attack on our nation that took place three days ago. Most importantly, we are stripping away the restrictions of the War Powers Resolution. It hardly makes sense to reimpose-and in one case tighten-the restrictions of the War Powers Resolution if our objective is to make it easier to respond to terrorism.” (Kinnucan)
As in 1964, with the Asia Resolution, Congress granted all but one of its Constitutional war powers to the President. They managed to retain the power to declare war while empowering the President to use military force at his discretion. (Kinnucan)
“The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” was little more than a thinly veiled declaration of war against Iraq. It granted powers to the President that he already possessed, demanding only that the President inform Congress every sixty days of any actions taken or changes in activity. (Hastert)
Professor Turner argues that the references to the War Powers Resolution within both “Authorization for Use of Military Force” and “The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” are inconsistent with the content of both documents.
It was almost as if the drafters of the anti-terrorism statute were oblivious to the role the War Powers Resolution had already played in undermining U.S. security, encouraging terrorism, and indeed contributing substantially to the deaths of hundreds of American military personnel.
Professor Turner concludes that Congress should repeal this “unnecessary, unconstitutional, and shameful” statute.
President Obama would probably agree with him. Congress has made a point of assailing him for his “illegal” wars. His planned “troop surge” in Afghanistan and “exit strategy” from the region were seen as attempts to both broaden and narrow the scope of the war. (Epps) The comparison between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam is not lost on the President.
Vietnam was like a terrier snapping at his heels. In his televised speech announcing his decision, he made the point three times that any comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan was a “false reading of history,” and yet he was the one raising the comparison. (Kalb)
Obama’s focus on the mistakes made in Vietnam has led him to make changes in Bush’s “war on terror”. It has become a more narrowly focused struggle against al Qaeda. (Rohde)
To a Realist, this struggle for military power between the Executive and Legislative branches of our government is to be expected in a world where people vie for power and control. To a Liberal, this infighting is counterproductive and not in the best interests of the people. A Constructivist would not see the need for the War Powers Act because the U.S. Constitution was written specifically to prevent questions of responsibility. And, to a Radical, this is just another way to disenfranchise the everyday person.
Epps, Garret. “Beyond West Point: Congressional Authorization and Obama’s Afghan Surge.” 15 December 2009. Politics Daily. 6 April 2012 <http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/12/15/beyond-west-point-congressional-authorization-and-obamas-afgha/>.
Hastert, Dennis. “Bill Text – 107th Congress (2001-2002) – H.J.RES.114.ENR.” n.d. Library of Congress – Thomas. 6 April 2012 <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c107:5:./temp/~c1070Ys9Nz::>.
Kalb, Marvin. “The Other War Haunting Obama.” 8 October 2011. The New York Times. 15 April 2012 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/the-vietnam-war-still-haunting-obama.html?_r=2&ref=warpowersactof1973&pagewanted=all>.
Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: The Viking Press, 1983.
Kinnucan, Michelle J. “Retinking the ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’.” 15 March 2002. Common Dreams. 6 April 2012 <http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0315-03.htm>.
Rohde, David. “The Obama Doctrine.” Foreign Policy March/April 2012: 65-69.
Turner, Robert F. “The War Powers Resolution: An Unnecessary, Unconstitutional Source of “Friendly Fire” in the War Against International Terrorism?” 15 February 2005. The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. 15 April 2012 <http://www.fed-soc.org/publications/detail/the-war-powers-resolution-an-unnecessary-unconstitutional-source-of-friendly-fire-in-the-war-against-international-terrorism>.
Washington, George, John Langdon and et al. “Constitution of the United States of America.” 22 February 2008. Office of the Law Revision Council. 14 April 2012 <http://uscode.house.gov/pdf/Organic%20Laws/const.pdf>.
Wiki. “War Powers Act of 1941.” 27 February 2012. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 17 March 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Powers_Act_of_1941>.