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.
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
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?