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January 14, 2003

What War?

This may sound random, but I'm hoping someone can help me out here. I keep hearing things about our "wartime President" and that this or that is necessary in "a time of war." The thing is, I just can't find any evidence—other than rhetoric from the Bush Administration, of course—that we, the United States, are at war. Did Congress ever officially declare war on anyone or anything? Did I miss that somewhere? And if not, shouldn't we be concerned that our government is in violation of Article I of the Constitution of the U.S. if it claims to be at war w/out official declaration from Congress?

I'm not talking about a war against Iraq, specifically, but a war on anything—terrorism, terrorists, Osama bin Laden. I mean, many people have said we're at war with these things, but there's a difference between people (even the President of the U.S.) saying we're at war and the U.S. Congress officially declaring war. I know, for example, that Congress "authorized the use of force" against Iraq, but does that mean war? Does that authorization give Bush and the Defense Department and everyone else the same rights and options that an official declaration of war would give them?

A Google search on the subject turns up some interesting things from the past year or so, but if anything, all these pieces simply raise the problem (or related problems), but don't answer it. The one piece that seems to directly address the question of whether the U.S. is really at war with anything argues pretty convincingly that, indeed, it is not.

As I write this, I vaguely recall some punditry about this problem sometime in the last 18 months, but for some reason, no one seems interested in pressing the point that we've got a problem if we allow presidential rhetoric to push us into a war that seems to exist only because the executive branch of government says it does. I've been told that the last time Congress actually declared war was WWII, meaning that Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War I were all wars in which Congress abdicated its responsibilities. So I guess the precedent for this was set long ago and we can expect to go to "war" any time a President decides we should, despite the fact that the framers of the Constitution wanted to prevent exactly that possibility when they gave Congress the responsibility to "make" (later changed to "declare") war. Brave new world and all that, I guess?

Posted January 14, 2003 10:49 AM | general politics

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