The Spectacle Blog

Authorizations of Force

By on 3.22.11 | 11:44AM

A few readers objected to my contention that an authorization of force is no less constitutionally legitimate than a declaration of war. The main argument is that these authorizations frequently contain contingencies, allowing the president to commit troops to combat if X happens or Y does not. In theory, I agree that this is problematic. But in practice, these contingencies usually just amount to hedging and it is very clear that Congress is voting for war by passing the resolution. (Though some Democrats pretended to be surprised by this in the case of the Iraq war.)

Some people did make the constitutionally dubious argument that George W. Bush was already authorized to invade Iraq under the resolution that authorized his father to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. Others still cited the resolution authorizing the president to strike back at those responsible for 9/11. Neither argument held water with very many people, but both are examples of how the open-endedness of authorizations of force can create constitutional problems a declaration of war would avoid.

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