Presidents' Day: A Day to Celebrate Unlimited War Powers or Peace?

This week we celebrate Presidents’ Day, which coincides with George Washington’s birthday. As the first president under the 1789 constitution and an advocate of peaceful relations with other nations, he, upon his departure from the presidency, warned the United States about getting involved in foreign conflicts and entangling alliances. Yet, today this warning is disregarded by Congress and presidents alike, and getting involved in other countries’ business and trying to control their actions is part of the day-to-day operations of American foreign policy. Washington and many of our other founding fathers would be appalled at the direction our government has moved in regards to relations with the world. The United States was never supposed to become an empire with a leader who can wage war in any country at any time, but that is exactly what it has become.

In recent years, presidents have believed that they can magically wave a wand to merge Article I Section 8 Clause 11 of the United States Constitution with Article II Section 2 Clause 1, and many politicians and legal scholars have cheered them on like they are watching wizards perform great wonders. Since the undeclared Vietnam War, Congress has been negligent in its duties to reign in the expansive powers of the executive branch and ignored many violations of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, including with the recent wars in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan (the AUMF does not specify that the president was authorized to overthrow the Taliban). Congress cannot constitutionally issue a blank check to the president to wage war with whoever or whenever, but that is what many will argue that the AUMF does. In conjunction with an array of military troops and equipment spread out across roughly two-thirds of the world’s countries and the ability to utilize economic terrorism through sanctions, orchestrate coup attempts against leaders not favorable to American interests, and sign executive agreements with other nations without the advice and consent of the Senate (a requirement for treaties under the Constitution), the president has almost infinite power when it comes to foreign affairs.

Now that war with Iran has become a likely scenario, Congress has attempted to take back some of its power from the executive branch in regards to waging war with that country, but any finalized bill attempting to curb the president’s power will be vetoed without the ability for an override (a two-thirds vote is needed in both houses). Although this is being done for partisan reasons (many of those who oppose President Trump’s actions accepted undeclared wars under President Obama), at least there was an attempt made.

Congress needs to put away its partisan differences and limit the president on all operations overseas, including smaller wars like Grenada and Panama and regime change operations like Cuba and Venezuela. Although the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, it does not mean that he or she has the authority to wage wars without congressional approval. Commander in chief does not equal king or emperor. What would George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson say if they only knew what power the executive branch would come to wield? This is something that all Americans should be concerned with as we reflect on the contributions of presidents throughout our history. American history polls and rankings generally place presidents who have waged wars towards the top, but perhaps we should flip this around and celebrate those who have attempted to steer clear of conflicts and limited the power of the presidency to its rightful place.

Thank you for reading, and please check out my book, The Global Bully, and website.
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Published on February 18, 2020 03:08
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