US Citizens Should Know This: A Timely Discussion of the War Powers Resolution

Waging War to Make Peace: U.S. Intervention in Global Conflicts (Praeger Security International) by Susan Yoshihara (Author)--

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

It is important for citizens of the United States of America to understand the nature and structure of our government, how it operates and how power is distributed. An informed citizenry is one of the key aspects of a successful representative democracy. In light of this idea, let us have a discussion about checks and balances and the balance of power as it relates to current news and our elected officials.

Wars and Rumors of Wars
Recent events have reignited the discussion of the so-called War Powers Resolution. The War Powers legislation was put into place, as an attempt to check the “U.S. president’s power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the U.S. Congress.” On Friday January 3, 2020 Qassem Soleimani, the top general of Iran’s elite Quds military force and one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic, was killed in an airstrike in Baghdad by American troops. Another high ranking official (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis) was also killed in the attack. He was the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Eight other members of the Iraqi PMF were also killed. The conflict has escalated tensions with Iran, with some experts speculating that an all out war with Iran is inevitable. This military strike has ignited debate surrounding which branch of government has the jurisdiction to authorize such a strike. The tension and conflict for this matter is between the legislative and the executive branches.

Soleimani was killed on the direct order of President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump did not receive the approval of the U.S. Congress for this pre-planned targeted U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. The Democrats and Republicans are divided in terms of whether the strike was justified, with the Republicans siding with the President.

What exactly is the The War Powers Resolution?
The War Powers Resolution is a law stating that the US president can only send U.S. Armed Forces into action abroad if Congress makes “a declaration of war”, a “statutory authorization,” or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” Furthermore, the Resolution “requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a congressional authorization for use of military force (AUMF) or a declaration of war by the United States.”

The Resolution was Nixon era legislation. That is, “in 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over President Richard Nixon’s veto. It represented the culmination of a national effort to prevent future presidents from repeating Nixon’s unilateral escalations in Vietnam.” Many argue that the War Powers Resolution has been violated, by President Bill Clinton in 1999, during the bombing campaign in Kosovo and by Barack Obama’s 2011 intervention in Libya. In both cases (Clinton and Obama) Congress has disapproved of their actions, but neither has resulted in any successful legal actions being taken against the presidents. This video offers a clear discussion of the War Powers Resolution.

An Uninformed Citizenry
The lesson here is that as we come across political debates and instances where the constitutionality of one of the branches of government’s actions is being called into question it is always best to educate ourselves and do research before commenting or joining the debate, because in many cases there are both legal and historical precedents that can give us a better picture of the current situation. One of the issues with the United States in our time is an uninformed citizenry. Many people misunderstand current events and political situations because they have not done their homework. Below are some resources that may offer more insight into this subject matter as well as lesson plans and materials teachers can use in the classroom to get students up to speed on the topic.

Other Articles
House to vote Thursday on war powers resolution after Iran attacks
NPR Article- What The White House Says About U.S. Attack On Iran’s Soleimani
Iran Mourns Slain General as Trump Threatens Iraq with Sanctions
Uproar and Consequences Mount for Trump after Soleimani Killing
Trump defends ‘war crime’ threat to target cultural sites in Iran
House to Vote on Limiting Trump’s Military Powers Regarding Iran, Pelosi Says
History of Declaration of War by the United States
War Powers Resolution
Who is Qasem Soleimani?
What Exactly Is the War Powers Act and Is Obama Really Violating It?
Obama’s Libya Debacle
Is Obama Enabling the Next President to Launch Illegal Wars?
Clinton’s War Powers Upheld
A Well-Informed Citizenry, Being Necessary To The Liberty Of A Free State…

Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources
Who Has the Power to Wage War? A Lesson on the Separation of Powers Nixon and the War Powers Resolution
Lesson on the War Powers Act

Discussion Questions
A. What are your thoughts on a President having the power to unilaterally declare war? Should the President have this right without having to get congressional approval? Why or why not?

B. To what extent have you had discussions about the War Powers Resolution in your social studies classroom? As a student? As a teacher?

C. How might teachers address and teach this topic in class?

D. What are creative ways we can create a culture of a more informed citizenry in the United States?


  1. Talking about checks and balances with students is extremely important as it is a crucial aspect of our democracy. However, checks and balances can often be confusing for students to understand and retain. The Wars Powers Resolution is an important part of the checks and balances, and therefore should be covered in depth. The article gave many good resources to teach this resolution. One thing that stood out to me is the video linked, which is informative to students and teachers to clear up any misconceptions. As stated in the article there is often misinformation surrounding current politics, and it is more important than ever to make sure as educators we are informed and educated so that we are able to inform our students and give them the resources to continue their political education. This political education can help combat the uninformed citizenry addressed in the article.

  2. After recent strikes made by the president it has raised my lack of awareness on the regulations that are put in place. Before this insistence I didn’t know the president had to have congressional approval first. I think as a citizen it is our duty to become educated before making our own opinions on the decision that was made. I enjoyed this article and the resources it provided me. I continue to look into this topic before creating my own decision/opinion.

  3. This article is very unbiased and full of information. I have seen countless arguments all over social media over the Iran Strike, and several sources stating that one side had chosen this versus the other. I wish everyone knew that the President chose to kill Soleimani and that congress had nothing to do with it. Also, I have never heard of the Wars Powers Resolution. It is interesting that it only allows the president to move troops if congress presents a declaration of war.

  4. I do not believe that the President should have the right or the power to declare war without getting congressional approval first. There is a reason that the President is not the only person involved in working for the government and this should include that the President should not have the right to make a decision as big as this without first taking it to a vote. I believe this is a first of me hearing about the War Powers Resolution as a student and it seems like it is time to be reinforcing it more or having stronger consequences. It is sad how true it is about uninformed citizenry and people should be taking more time out of their day to get caught up on their current events rather than being on social media.

  5. Dr. Childs- This article was very informative and helped me to have a better understanding of everything going on in Iran. I currently have a sister deployed there right now so I have been trying to stay up to date on what is going on. With that said, I did not realize how the attack on Iran began in the first place. It is interesting that both Clinton and Obama went against the War Powers Resolution without any legal action taken against them. It almost shows the President that he can do this without any repercussions. Had something been done then, perhaps Trump would not have been so confident to make the call without U.S Congress approval now. Nevertheless, I appreciate how well this article explains everything that has occurred thus far. The resources linked at the end are also helpful tools that I expect to use in the future. Your comments on uninformed citizenry are all too true. Hopefully people can share resources like this to help one another for times to come.

  6. This article made me aware of the War Powers Resolution and the impact it has on the checks and balances system. As Congress holds power on the declaration of War and provides a filter of discussion before large actions can take place, I was shocked that President Trump, as well as several other Presidents, have defied this order and had a chance to overthrow the system set in place. As a student, I have had little knowledge of what makes up a checks and balances system and am curious about what ways these boundaries are pushed and how the abuse of power can be addressed? I think it’s important as citizens to be informed about topics related to our nation’s security. In regards to international business, I believe that actions that could potentially lead to war should be looked over delicately since the cost is so large.

  7. Looking into the “War Powers Resolution” was illuminating. I consider myself part of the “informed” citizenry, but I had still forgotten it was Nixon era legislation. About a tear ago, I had an uneasy feeling about US-Iran relations, and was disappointed that I knew so little about it. Since then, I have crash-coursed my way into a much better understanding of the political, economic, and cultural history of Iran. That aside, the political debate about the constitutionality of President Trump’s airstrike seems to be along party lines. Was the airstrike considered to be removing “a national security threat?” Is it an act of war? The Framers wanted to avoid tyranny at all costs- and thus our system of checks and balances was created. Presidential excess, or even elasticity, can lead to abuse of power. How much stretch does the Constitution have?

  8. With all the recent discussion of a so-called “World War III” it is evident of how misinformed the public is on the amount of unchecked power the president has, myself included. I have previously heard of the War Powers Resolution but have never truly understood it until now. I feel like as a US citizen it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and take some time to research and search for unbiased sources before we jump to conclusions and spread falsehoods.

  9. I had never heard about the War Powers Resolution until reading this article. The War Powers Resolution was created for times like today and situations like the one discussed above. When creating the Constitution and US government, the founders instituted checks and balances very thoughtfully. I think the War Powers Resolution is interesting because even though there are already checks and balances in place, and even though the President is Commander in Chief, Congress felt the need to make additional checks and balances. I don’t believe President Trump or the previous presidents who violated the resolution made their decisions individually. The President has cabinets and advisors and people who help him make his decisions. Many people agreed with what Trump did, as they encouraged it. Many people disagreed- many in Congress along with citizens.
    The citizens are very often uninformed and that negatively affects societal views, and it did in this situation. Mass media and social media were taken by storm when the news broke and the stories stated coming. It is so important for citizens to educate ourselves and look into non-biased information to learn about current events and issues. Many people were misinformed about the Iran attack and spread false information. Information spreads so fast now, and it caused a lot of problems.

  10. I think another important lesson to try to impart on students is to try to ensure they have empathy and some sense of understanding for “the other side.” Last week in my mentor teacher’s classroom, students were wondering why the US couldn’t just use nuclear weapons on Iran. These questions prompted my mentor to take a couple days explaining and humanizing the perspective of regular people in Iran, and discussing the horror and ramifications of nuclear warfare. She also plans to add more to her Cold War unit later in the year focusing on the history of Iran-US relations.

    As social studies teachers we have the power to help students expand their horizons of thinking, and learn to empathize with people and cultures from around the world. We can help them develop a sense not just of their standing within their own nation, but of the standing of that nation within the global community. This manner of breaking down misconceptions and fostering a more inclusive, measured worldview is an important goal of mine as a future teacher.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.