The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Non-Absurdity of Declaring War

A Marine with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command 19.2, stands post during the reinforcement of the Baghdad embassy compound in Baghad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2020. (Sergeant Kyle C. Talbot/USMC)

In response to Re: Soleimani Was a Political Killing 

Rich Lowry writes: “Iranian-supported forces have been killing and maiming U.S. troops for years, in clear acts of war. Are we not permitted to respond to these attacks absent specific congressional authorization? That’s an absurd position.”

Yes, I think that’s exactly the right position, and I do not think it is absurd — it is the position in the Constitution.

The president enjoys some independent use of military power during emergencies, but the power to declare a war — the power to “authorize the use of military force,” in the current antiseptic language — belongs to Congress, as does the related power of ratifying a treaty. There is a reason for that: War has always been a great seducer of kings, which is why our Founders gave the power to start one to Congress, with its more immediate democratic accountability, rather than to the president. That was wise then, and it is wise today.

Emergency powers are reasonable. But the situation with Iran is the opposite of an emergency. As Rich notes, the Iranians have been engaged in this activity for a very long time — decades, in fact. This is not some new, unforeseen, and sudden development. Authorizing an act of war on the Iranian state is something that no Congress has undertaken in the nearly 20 years since the beginning of the so-called war on terror and something that none of the three presidents who have served during that period has sought. The newspapers call Iran’s actions “provocative,” but the U.S. government has steadfastly declined to be provoked. Judging by their actions, nobody in Washington thinks this is an emergency. This is one of those things that politicians insist “cannot be tolerated” even as it is tolerated year after year after year.

Maybe somebody should take it more seriously. But in reality we have had nearly two decades since 9/11 to think about it, and that after an Iran hostage crisis that came to a climax when this gray-bearded columnist was in the third grade. This surely must be the most soporific state of war ever to have existed. It proceeds at a splendidly glacial pace, like a parade float stirred by the occasional crosswind.

If the U.S. government wants to make war on Iran, then there is a constitutional process for it to do so. So far, it has not been moved to act, in spite of the fact that, as Rich notes, “Iranian-supported forces have been killing and maiming U.S. troops for years, in clear acts of war.” No Congress has authorized war on Iran, and no president has sought such authorization.

If Iran has committed a clear act of war, as Rich says, then let Congress be clear about it, too. A little clarity all around would be desirable.

Most Popular

U.S.

A Look at the Reinfection Rate

On the menu today: unraveling those ominous claims that people can get reinfected with the coronavirus merely weeks or months after they think they’ve beaten it; the governor of Mississippi explains why he doesn’t think “herd immunity” is a realistic option, while some New York neighborhoods offer some ... Read More
U.S.

A Look at the Reinfection Rate

On the menu today: unraveling those ominous claims that people can get reinfected with the coronavirus merely weeks or months after they think they’ve beaten it; the governor of Mississippi explains why he doesn’t think “herd immunity” is a realistic option, while some New York neighborhoods offer some ... Read More
White House

Don’t Blame Fauci

The president’s relationship with Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has played a very public role in the country’s COVID-19 response, has gotten especially rocky. Fauci has expressed concerns about reopening and bluntly contradicted some of the ... Read More
White House

Don’t Blame Fauci

The president’s relationship with Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has played a very public role in the country’s COVID-19 response, has gotten especially rocky. Fauci has expressed concerns about reopening and bluntly contradicted some of the ... Read More
Media

Bari Weiss and the Malignancy at the New York Times

Bari Weiss resigned today from the New York Times, five weeks after the Times essentially forced out editorial page editor James Bennet for publishing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton. Bennet had hired Weiss, and his departure for allowing a U.S. Senator to advocate the use of longstanding presidential powers was a ... Read More
Media

Bari Weiss and the Malignancy at the New York Times

Bari Weiss resigned today from the New York Times, five weeks after the Times essentially forced out editorial page editor James Bennet for publishing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton. Bennet had hired Weiss, and his departure for allowing a U.S. Senator to advocate the use of longstanding presidential powers was a ... Read More