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Declare war before going to war

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American military action in Afghanistan is winding down, but if President Bush wants to expand the war to include members of the so-called "axis of evil," he needs congressional approval.

After Sept. 11, Congress authorized the president to retaliate against any "nations, organization, or persons" involved in the atrocity. However, there apparently is no evidence linking even Iraq to the September attacks. The administration seems prepared to treat Iraq's refusal to accept UN weapons inspections as a casus belli. But the president has no authority to act for this reason. He must go to Congress. Article 1, Sec. 8 (11) of the Constitution states: "Congress shall have the power ... to declare war."

One of the founders' criticisms of the British king was that he could unilaterally drag his nation into war. The framers consciously rejected such a system.

Explained Alexander Hamilton: The president's power was "in substance much inferior to [the power of the king]. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the land and naval forces ... while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war."

The Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution as they did because they feared that presidents would act as they do now. Said James Madison, it is necessary to adhere to the "fundamental doctrine of the Constitution that the power to declare war is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature."

Delegates did change Congress's power from "make" to "declare" war, but they intended to give the president authority to respond to a sudden attack, not initiate a conflict. James Wilson observed: "It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress."


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