With the War in Iraq continuing to rage, many Americans are asking, "Isn't there somebody who can find some way to keep a president from using U.S. fighting forces whenever and wherever he wants?"
The somebody is Congress. The way is the War Powers Act of 1973.
After Vietnam soured Americans on the idea of a president acting alone in committing U.S. fighting forces, Congress passed the War Powers Act. The act not only reasserted Congress' constitutional right to declare war, but provided that the president must "consult" with Congress before sending troops, and that unless Congress declared or otherwise authorized war, the fighting forces had to be withdrawn within 60 days.
For the first few years after, Congress expected presidents to live up to the act. When President Gerald Ford sent the military to Vietnam in 1975 to evacuate refugees, several Congressmen accused him of violating the law. So when Ford later sent fighting forces to Cambodia during the Mayaguez incident, he consulted with Congress ahead of time, and complied with the act afterwards.
Since then, the law has been ignored by presidents and Congress alike. President George W. Bush went to Congress for authorization for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but made it clear that he did not feel that he needed it.
The War Powers Act has never been invoked, and its constitutionality has never been tested. So why not now that President Barack Obama has taken office? He has pledged to work with Congress, and was true to his word concerning the stimulus bill, even trying to get obstructionist Republicans on board. Let's see if he's true to his word on matters that are not in such a crisis stage. In turn, the new Congress itself has promised changes; let's see if they mean it.
Invocation of the War Powers Act would not be a call for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan; it would be a reassertion of Congress' responsibilities in military actions, responsibilities mandated by the Constitution and the American people. A 1973 Gallup Poll showed that 80 percent of Americans approved of the War Powers Act.
In the recent election Americans voted for change. They voted for Congress and the president to quit shifting blame and to work together. The President and at least Congressional Democrats did so in putting together the stimulus package.
If this is a good idea in the domestic policy arena, it may be an even better one on the international front.