I was very pleased with U.S. Senator Todd Young’s announcement that he would support legislation restricting the President’s war-making authority regarding military action against Iran. This is a courageous move, especially in a state that Donald Trump won by a large margin and where Young will face re-election in the middle of what will likely be Trump’s second term.
It is true that the President is the Commander-In-Chief, and as such he should and does have the authority to deploy the military to protect American interests. It is also true that Congress has the sole authority to declare war. But here is the problem: The founders never envisioned when they wrote the Constitution that this nation would be the sole global superpower, with economic and military reach at every point of the world. Our superpower status also makes American personnel, property and security interests vulnerable to attack far beyond the borders of our nation.
But this gray area has also given presidents of both parties too much leeway to expand executive authority at the expense of the legislative branch. For their part, the legislative branch has been more than happy to let the President expand his authority rather than face the wrath of voters for a decision gone bad. To a large extent, Congress has become a vestigial organ of our government and we need leaders in Washington who are willing to take back the authority that rightly belongs to the legislative branch.
Unfortunately, our hyper-partisan political atmosphere makes such action unlikely. Young is one of only a few Republicans who is willing to go against his party and against Trump. Democrats, meanwhile, will likely lose interest in reclaiming Congressional authority the minute a Democrat becomes President, allowing the executive to use military force willy-nilly like Barack Obama did in creating the disaster in Libya. That most Senators put party over principle is why Young’s action is so remarkable.
Since presidents of both parties have said that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional and restricts their authority as CIC too much, what we probably need at this point is an amendment to the Constitution clarifying the authority of Congress and the President regarding engaging in military conflict. As a policy, the War Powers Act would be a good template for that constitutional amendment. But is Congress actually willing to do the hard work of reclaiming its rightful authority? Don’t bet on it, no matter who controls the House and Senate. The only hope for that is if a large majority of the American people demand it.