We tend to focus more on domestic issues here at Inkwell, but I feel compelled to take note of an exciting, new foreign policy concept put forward by Cato’s Doug Bandow:
Attack Iran? Ask Congress to Declare War
Wow! What an amazing idea.
The last declaration of war by the Congress was 70 years ago, after Pearl Harbor. But–you rightly observe–the United States has fought wars since then. President Bush got an authorization for the use of force, which isn't the same thing as a declaration of war, to go into Iraq, while President Obama simply pretended we weren’t engaged in a war in Libya. Neither approach is entirely satisfactory.
Although I supported the Iraq invasion (not a universal opinion among my IWF colleagues) and realize that, had a declaration of war been required, it might not have been possible, the Bandow idea nevertheless appeals. For one thing, I think the Founding Fathers probably intended this:
The Founders were prepared to fight for their independence, but they feared the costs of war. They particularly worried about the consequences of investing the executive with the limitless power to engage in war, like the British king…
Contrary to conventional wisdom in today's White House, the Founders gave Congress several important war-making powers, including raising an army, approving military expenditures, ratifying treaties, setting rules of war, and issuing letters of marquee. Moreover, the legislative branch was to decide whether there would be a war for the president to fight. According to Article 1, Sec. 8 (11), "Congress shall have the power… to declare war." James Madison explained: the "fundamental doctrine of the Constitution that the power to declare war is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature."
The convention delegates were not fools. Especially at a time when communication and transportation were slow, they recognized that the chief executive might have to respond to foreign attack. For that reason the Framers changed "make" to "declare." However, that did not mean that Congress could only declare as in "take note" of the fact that the president had, say, invaded another nation.
The Founders' objective was simple. They did not trust the executive to make this important decision alone.
Another reason to declare wars is that the country is more unified. As Bandow notes, war with Iran would be “extraordinary” and probably far more costly than Iraq. This doesn’t mean I’m not glad American ships have been steaming reassuringly to the Persian Gulf.
Indeed, short of war, I hope we meet Iran’s bluster aggressively with a show of force. The Wall Street Journal has an idea:
[T]he best response to Iran's threats would be to send an American aircraft carrier back through the Strait of Hormuz as soon as possible, with flags waving and guns at the ready. If it can't be the Stennis, the USS Eisenhower would drive home the message.
Max Boot and Navy Captain Bradley Russell, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, point out in the same newspaper this morning that Iran knows better than to try to close the Strait of Hormuz. This is just saber rattling.
The issue is Iran’s fear of real sanctions, as opposed to the weak ones we’ve tried so far. If President Obama and the Europeans can be resolute they have a good chance at prevailing. It can be argued that one reason the Iranians are willing to engage in this bluff is that they perceive weakness in Washington.