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Obama’s full flop on presidential war powers

Well, I managed to get my presidential war powers piece posted before a whole lot of other people decided to dust off the issue, but many of the more recent entries have something relevant that my piece lacked, namely Barack Obama’s position on presidential war powers before he became president.

In 2007, Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage asked Obama whether a president would have the authority to bomb Iran without prior congressional authorization. Replied the then-Sen. Obama in the early stages of a presidential campaign (see question and answer #2 on the linked  piece):

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

In light of recent development, Politifact review the statement and gave Obama “A full flop.”

Michael Kinsley, writing for Politico, is among the latest to join the party on the amazing disappearing congressional power to declare war, but he provides a decent overview of the history and constitutional arguments.

By the way, my previous war powers piece took off from a statement by Sen. Richard Lugar demanding a full congressional declaration of war before Obama attacked Libya. Lugar happened to be on Meet The Press on Sunday, but he didn’t bring up the war declaration and I have a feeling he never will again.

But I would still like to hear some bona fide strict constructionist make the case for the magical deletion of the explicitly enumerated congressional war power from the Constitution.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/29/2011 - 04:15 pm.

    Presidents have become good at redefining what they do as something other than war.

  2. Submitted by Steve Rose on 03/29/2011 - 04:16 pm.


    Regarding presidential war powers, I beat you by a full week and right here on MinnPost.

    Comment #6 of the March 22 Community Voices column by Shawn Otto. I will repeat it, in part, for your convenience. All of the usual suspects on the MinnPost Comments board stepped back from it.

    My comment of March 22nd:

    While I am an infrequent consumer of TV news, last night I did see both Rachel Madow and Ed Schulz on MSNBC. I am not sure what was going on over at Fox News, but they would be hard pressed to balance those two.

    They both yapped in vain to sugar coat the reality that President Obama is operating Bush’s third term. Maddow really liked that President Obama broke the news of U.S. military action against Libya, while he was in Brazil. No Oval Office address, no siryee. And no permission even requested from Congress. The shiny Brazilian wrapping on the package seemed to distract Madow from the putrid contents in the box. Ed was batting clean-up, and drove the message home.

    Here is an interesting fact.

    Less than a year (12/2007), before he was elected President, Barack Obama:

    “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/29/2011 - 04:30 pm.

    This, my friends, would make for a very interesting Supreme Court case, especially given the current makeup of the Court and its recent right-leaning decisions.

  4. Submitted by Steve Rose on 03/29/2011 - 04:40 pm.

    Then there was that unfortunate egg laid by VP Joe Biden on November 29, 2007.

    “I am not one, who if you’ve observed me for some time, I am not one who’s engaged in excessive populist rhetoric. I’m not one that pits the rich against the poor. I’m not one who’s gone out there and made false threats against presidents about, and god love him he’s a great guy, I’m not Dennis Kucinich saying impeach everybody now. But let me tell you, I have written an extensive legal memorandum with the help of a group of legal scholars who are sort of a stable of people, the best-known constitutional scholars in America, because for 17 years I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

    “I asked them to put together [for] me a draft, which I’m now literally riding between towns editing, that I want to make clear and submit to the Untied States Senate pointing out the president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran. And I want to make it clear, I want it on the record, and I want to make it clear, if he does, as chairman of the foreign relations committee and former chair of the judiciary committee, I will move to impeach him.”

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/29/2011 - 08:26 pm.

    The end point will be a test of Obama as a pragmatic politician.
    if Gaddafi leaves and is replaced by a government that is both more democratic and reasonably pro western, and if there is no major loss of life, then Obama will be remembered as having made a good decision, whatever its constitutionality.
    And we will probably know the answer by the 2012 elections.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 03/30/2011 - 03:53 pm.


    Thanks for writing this column. You put to words what many were thinking, and are clearly at a loss to explain away.

    This column has been on MinnPost for over 24 hours, and has drawn comment from just three people. Were Bush still President, and all circumstances identical, this comment board regarding presidential war powers would have been lit up.

    What happened to the conversation?

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