President Obama has been emphatically warning Americans about the dangers of a Trump presidency. But these warnings divert attention from a much darker reality. His Justice Department is in fact pushing the law in a direction that will enable the next president to declare war against any “terrorist” group or nation without the consent of Congress.
This reality is clear from the Department’s response to a lawsuit challenging the legality of Obama’s war against the Islamic State.
In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over President Richard Nixon’s veto. It represented the culmination of a national effort to prevent future presidents from repeating Nixon’s unilateral escalations in Vietnam. The Resolution provides that, when a president commits American forces to a new military engagement, he has 60 days to gain the explicit authorization of Congress for the war. If Congress refuses its consent, the Resolution requires the commander in chief to withdraw his forces from the battlefield within the next 30 days.
The Resolution represented a fundamental breakthrough. According to Senator Jacob Javits, its leading sponsor:
We live in an age of undeclared war, which has meant Presidential war. Prolonged engagement in an undeclared Presidential war has created a most dangerous imbalance in our Constitutional system of checks and balances. . . . [The bill] is rooted in the words and the spirit of the Constitution. It [aims] to restore the balance which has been upset by the historical enthronement of that power over which the framers of the Constitution regarded as the keystone of the whole Article of Congressional power–the exclusive authority of Congress to declare war; the power to change the nation from a state of peace to a state of war.
In making war against the Islamic State, Obama also launched an assault on the Resolution, attacking Congress's constitutional position as the ultimate arbiter over war and peace. When he began his new military campaign against ISIS in June 2014, he made no effort to gain Congress’s explicit approval within the next 60 days. He asserted that the decade-old Congressional authorizations for President George W. Bush's wars against al-Qaeda and Saddam sufficed for his new war. In doing so, he took advantage of widespread confusion. ISIS did not even exist when Congress authorized Bush’s attacks in 2001 and 2002. And by the time that Obama began his new military adventure, ISIS had become al-Qaeda's bitter enemy.