Theuse of presidential powers has stirred debate amongst politicalanalysts and scholars, moreso regarding excesses andmisinterpretation of the law. For instance, historian Arthur M.Schlesinger, describe the evolution of the modern presents by coiningthe term “imperial presidency”(Aune and Medhurst 93). Accordingto him, some presidents have been abusing powers, mainly by lack oftraditional checks and misinterpretation of the constitution atlarge. Given this, aggregation of war powers gave rise to imperialpresidency in the United States. This was facilitated by usurpationof foreign policy and excessive domestic powers, alongside extremelypowerful presidency and a weak congress that could not keep thehighest office of the land in check. Recently, president Obama’sapproach towards international conflict has led to harsh criticism ofthe office, with critics citing misuse of power. This paper looks atthe pros and cons of president Obama’s use of the presidentialpowers, and uses Libya and ISIS to argue that the president hasabused the presidential war powers bestowed upon him.
U.SPresident’s war powers
TheConstitution of the United States of America gives war powers to theExecutive and the Legislature. The president, as the Commander inChief of the armed forces and the head of the executive, has thepowers to give directives about war. The congress too, on the otherhand, has the powers to declare war on any enemy of the State.Giventhe power struggles between the congress and the executive, the WarPowers Resolution was passed so as to outline the responsibilities ofeach branch. The resolution was passed during the era of PresidentNixon in 1973, under the Public Law 93-148 (Geyer and Keefer 67). TheCongress passed the War Powers Resolution after the Vietnam War, soas to address the issue of the president sending armed forces intohostile situations without a declaration of war, or without some formof approval from majority of the congress.
TheWar Powers Resolution divided into separate parts for purposes ofclarity. The first part gave reasons for its formation. It statedthat “to ensure that the collective judgment of both the congressand the president will apply to the introduction of United Statesarmed forces into hostilities” (Lantis 44). This means that thepresident’s war powers are only exercised after declaration of war,with due approval from the congress or as a national emergency. Thesecond part of the Resolution provides that the president has toconsult with the congress before sending armed forces into a conflictzone. The third part requires that the president reports to thecongress after sending the armed forces into a conflict zone. Thefourth part addresses the actions and procedures of the congress asregards to matters of war. Specifically, it gives the timeline forthe withdrawal of the military from a conflict zone after a report issubmitted to the congress, unless the congress itself approved forcontinued presence of the military in that war zone.
TheU.S constitution gives the president powers to wage wars as commanderin chief of the armed forces. At the same time, it gives the congresspowers to declare war. According to a number of scholars, thepresident has the powers of ordering the military to fight offattacks that endanger the country (Prouty 125). However, chiefexecutives from the legislature and the executive often differ aboutthe ability of the other to initiate military engagement. As anobservation, since the end of World War II, the presidents havealmost had all the War Powers. This is the reason they have beenignoring the congress and ordering the military into war zoneswithout approval. For the purposes of the paper, President Obama’sengagement in Libya and ISIS conflict are used to showcase abuse ofthe presidential war powers.
Clearly,the acts of war waged upon Libya violated the provisions of the U.Sconstitution and the War Powers Resolution. Additionally, by pledgingmilitary support to the NATO-led attack against Libya, PresidentObama exceeded his authority and abused the powers conferred upon himby the Constitution. One of the major features of the War PowersResolution, as explained above, is presidential reports. The congressand the constitution put it crystal clear that incase there is lackof a war declaration against any enemy of the state, the presidentmust submit a written report to the speaker of the house ofrepresentatives and the senate within 24 hours so as due protocol canbe followed in releasing the military.
Itis also irrefutable that Obama acted as if the War Powers Resolutionnever existed. As explained above, instead of sending the writtenreport within the stipulated 24 hour period, he waited for almost aweek to do so. Additionally, Obama did not consult with the leadersof the congress committees on matters of war and foreign militaryengagement. These consultations are legally mandated by the WarPowers Resolution. In failing to do so, he demonstrated utmostdisrespect to the laws of the land and abuse of office in hisactions. The President never mentioned the congress or theconstitution whilst communicating to the nation, implying thatwar-engagement was a presidential privilege, which is abuse ofpresidential war powers.
Ina nationally televised address to the nation in 2014, President Obamaannounced that the U.S would engage the ISIS and systematicallystrike them, at the same time, including Syria in the attacks (npr1). Obama maintained that he had the authority to address the threatthat was posed by the Islamic state, and would do so with or withoutapproval of the congress. Obama was not wrong in labeling the ISIS athreatin fact, it is amongst the biggest threats to security as itis a terrorist organization. However, the U.S constitution doesclearly state that it the nation can only retaliate when it is underattack or when it perceives an enemy to be directly targeting it. Thepresident himself did admit that the administration had not yetdetected any plots against The United States of America. The mainargument by the administration was that these terrorists would pose athreat in the future in they were not kept in check. By this, thepresident clearly abused the powers bestowed upon him by theconstitution, and acted irrationally.
Supportersof the president argue that according to the U.S constitution, thepresident has the power to initiate hostilities without consultingcongress (Hybel and Kaufman 48). This has over time initiated debatebetween the supporters of the congress and the supporters of theexecutive over war powers. One of the articles that provide an answerto this question is Article II of the constitution, which creates thepresidency. It has to be noted that one of the definingcharacteristics of the constitution is that it creates offices andgrants powers to the holders, making them independent of others. Inthis light, the constitution designated the president as theCommander in Chief of the armed forces. However, it does notenumerate specific powers to this role. As the founding fathers hadin mind, the president shall control the armed forces and the militiaof several other states when called upon to serve in this capacity.
Therefore,the argument by the supporters of the President that he has theauthority to declare war without approval of the congress isnullified. This is because article I and section 8 of theconstitution grants the legislature this power (Dewhirst and Rausch533). By granting the president of the United States constitutionalauthority to attack without approval from the congress, they would bearguing that the constitution looks forward to wars and militaryconflicts with other nations. In reality, the war documents list anumber of armed conflicts, which differs from wars and situations ofbeing under attack from enemies. Additionally, wars can be instigatedby attacks, such as the Second World War, but this is not always thecase. The United States of America has not been under attack from anumber of coountries it has engaged in war, such as Libya.
Accordingto a White house report to the congress in 2011, President Obama didnot abuse his powers after ordering the attack of Libya (Pace 1).This was the first time that the administration publicly gave itsrationale for continued military presence in Libya, even withoutreceiving congress’ approval. According to their argument, giventhat the U.S had limited support in the NATO-led bombing, he Americanmilitary was not engaged in sustaining the fighting. As an act ofdefying criticism from the congress, the White House insisted thatthe president had the authority to continue U.S military presence inLibya, with or without approval from the congress. However, theaction of the administration, as the will of the president himself,would be disapproved, going per the stand of the president while hewas vying presidency in 2007. Obama said that the resident did nothave powers under the constitution to unilaterally authorize amilitary attack in a situation that did not involve stopping a threatto the US (Cavage 1). He also went ahead to state that militaryaction was most effective when it was authorized and supported by thelegislature. This clearly contradicts his words and actions.
Over time, the presidents of the United States of America haveconsistently taken a position that the War Powers Resolution isunconstitutional. Most argue that it is an infringement upon thepowers of the executive, and this has led to controversy regardingthe enactment of the resolution. However, going back to theconstitution of the United States, the office of the president wascreated as an institution which had to observe all other provisionsof the document. The congress has been constitutionally mandated togive directions about war and other forms of military engagement.Therefore, President Obama, by asserting that he can order militaryaction without consent of the congress, is abusing the presidentialwar powers as constituted. It is therefore necessary to ensure thatthe congress makes moves to tame any future actions by Obama or anyother coming president so as to ensure that what the founding fathershad in mind for the nation is fulfilled.
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