Regrettably, the Baker-Christopher commission – like too many well-intentioned critics and commentators – has started with the wrong question: Can the president act alone, or must he consult?
That approach turns the Constitution on its head. The proper question is whether the president has any constitutional role in authorizing the use of force, except when he acts to defend the nation against actual or imminent attack. Under the Constitution, his role is to recommend undertaking a war and, if Congress approves, to conduct the war as commander in chief.
The commission focused on the failings of the War Powers Resolution instead of looking for guidance to the war powers provisions in the Constitution. Articles I and II are explicit: The Congress has the exclusive authority to decide if and when we go to war, while the president has the exclusive authority to decide how we wage that war.
Giving war-deciding power to the legislative branch and war-conducting to the executive was purposeful and strategic. This division of authority and responsibility remains integral to the fabric of the country.
As James Madison once observed, "In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department... [T]he temptation would be too great for any one man."
If there has ever been such a thing as a "limited" war, it is now a thing of the past. Our world is too small, too interconnected, and too well-armed for us to assume that "police actions" can be neatly contained any longer. We cannot afford to entrust the might of the American military to one person, no matter how many advisers he may have.
The men and women in uniform will certainly be called to arms again to deal with some new threat or act of aggression. It is imperative that the decision to send them in harm's way is made by Congress.