“The Congress shall have Power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”
—U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 1
Like many powers articulated in the U.S. Constitution, Congress’ authority to declare war was revolutionary in its design, as the founders saw the atrocities carried out by centralized heads of states like kings and queens and set out to prevent them. The Constitution was a clear break from the past when a handful of European monarchs controlled the continent’s ability to tax, make law, and wage war.
The framers of the Constitution—reluctant to repeat history and delegate massive influence in the hands of too few—denied the office of the President the authority to go to war unilaterally. If America was going to survive as a republic, the founders declared, acts of war required careful debate in open forums among the public’s representatives—the exact opposite of what we have today.
The founders knew of the tendency of the executive branch to always seek war, so they built in checks to prevent it. Over the past two decades, however, this has dramatically changed as the office of the president has been given increasingly more power to wage war—because 9/11.
Even more ominous though, according to Rand Paul, there is a concerted effort by the Congress to deal a death blow to what little accountability they have left to stop a dictator president from waging unlimited war on a whim. It is called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
In an oped this week, Senator Paul explained how instead of Congress reclaiming its authority to prevent unlimited war, it is going to codify the unacceptable, unconstitutional status quo.
“It is clear upon reading the AUMF, put forward by Senators Tim Kaine and Bob Corker, that it gives nearly unlimited power to this or any other president to be at war whenever he or she wants, with minimal justification and no prior specific authority,” wrote Paul.
As Paul explains:
That isn’t an AUMF. That isn’t Congress reclaiming its constitutional duties. That’s a complete rewriting of the role of the executive and of the constitutional separation of powers.
The new Kaine/Corker AUMF declares war on at least the following places and people: the Taliban, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS anywhere, al-Shabaab in Somalia and elsewhere, al-Qaeda in Syria, al-Nusra in Syria, the Haqqani network in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Nigeria, and associated forces (as defined by the president) around the globe.
That is simply breathtaking. Previous AUMFs have never included “associated forces,” and with good reason. Yet the Kaine/Corker AUMF not only codifies military action against those associated forces, but by conservative estimates authorizes war in over 20 nations.
With the passage of the new AUMF, Congress essentially removes itself from the equation in declaring war and waging attacks on sovereign nations. As it stands currently, the War Powers Act limits use of force by the executive with the exception of a national emergency or an imminent attack. To those who’ve been watching the US wage endless war in the Middle East with no Congressional oversight since 9/11, we’ve seen how terrible the War Powers Act has been at preventing the cancerous growth of the military-industrial complex.