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Sending the U.S. to war is not the president's call

That power is Congress's alone; don't hand it over.

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In the United States, the decision to go to war rests with the elected representatives of those who will do the fighting and dying. It's one of the defining – and critical – elements of the republic.

Our nation's founders purposely rejected the European custom of kings starting wars essentially by decree. Instead, the drafters delegated war powers to the legislative branch of the new government.

That constitutional assignment of power to Congress has not always been followed in practice. And it's in jeopardy now.

Presidents of both parties have sought to arrogate the power to go to war into the executive branch. In one recent and notable example, senior advisers to President George W. Bush asserted that he had no constitutional obligation to seek authorization from Congress for use of force in Iraq.

It is easy to blame the president for this state of affairs. He has, after all, advanced a theory and practice of executive supremacy in national security matters that most constitutional scholars find contrary to the tenets of this republic's very principles.

But disappointingly, the incremental power grab by the executive branch has often been met by a silent abdication of Congress's authority and neglect of its duty.

A commission led by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher recently issued a proposal to replace the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution of 1973 with a new law to clarify which branch of government has authority to take the nation to war.


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