Con­sti­tu­tional process of declar­ing war must re­main

Woonsocket Call - - OPINION -

The fol­low­ing ed­i­to­rial ap­pears on Bloomberg Opin­ion:

Amer­i­cans might dif­fer over the finer points of the Found­ing Fathers’ plan to share war-mak­ing author­ity be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches, but the ba­sic prin­ci­ple has al­ways been clear. Congress, and only Congress, has the power to de­clare war; the pres­i­dent and his mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers are re­spon­si­ble for wag­ing it.

Law­mak­ers’ lat­est at­tempt to re­state their con­sti­tu­tional pre­rog­a­tive has those aims back­ward.

Since the start of this cen­tury, three con­sec­u­tive pres­i­dents ex­panded the war against ter­ror­ism well beyond its orig­i­nal pur­poses – yet Congress re­peat­edly failed to up­date or set aside the mea­sures it passed in 2001 and 2002 au­tho­riz­ing the in­va­sions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Law­mak­ers back then had no inkling of the fu­ture rise of Is­lamic State, the Syr­ian civil war, or the spread of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in north­ern Africa and the Ara­bian Penin­sula. Those ini­tial au­tho­riza­tions have been stretched beyond the bounds of plau­si­bil­ity.

Now a cou­ple of Se­nate heavy hit­ters – the Re­pub­li­can chair­man of the Foreign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, Bob Corker, and for­mer Demo­cratic vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Tim Kaine – have put to­gether an au­tho­riza­tion bill sup­plant­ing the pre­vi­ous two. Un­like pre­vi­ous pro­pos­als, it has a chance of ac­tu­ally get­ting to a floor vote.

On the big­gest is­sue – pro­vid­ing le­gal foot­ing for the ex­panded war – the pro­posal does fairly well. It would ex­plic­itly add Is­lamic State to the list of tar­geted par­ties, along­side the Tal­iban and al-Qaida. It would also give the pres­i­dent author­ity to take the bat­tle to five named “as­so­ci­ated forces,” in­clud­ing al-Qaida off­shoots in Syria and Ye­men, and to fur­ther broaden the mis­sion as new groups appear in new bat­tle­fields. Be­fore any such broad­en­ing, the White House would have to give Congress a de­tailed ra­tio­nale.

All of that is sound. In other ways, the mea­sure is dis­ap­point­ing.

Though it re­peals the two ear­lier au­tho­riza­tions, the bill con­fus­ingly adds that it pro­vides “un­in­ter­rupted author­ity” for the use of force au­tho­rized in 2001. It’s hard to say what this means, but some fear it might give the pres­i­dent a back-door way to un­der­take mis­sions not clearly au­tho­rized un­der the new bill.

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