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Page 12
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<< 11. Winter Soldier Service Awards13. Letter to Aaron Bushnell (1998-2024) (poem) >>

A Half-Century of 1973's War Powers Resolution

By Al Wellman

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Although the declaration of war is a power given to Congress by Section 8 of Article 1 of the United States Constitution, the Vietnam War experience, including the secret bombing of Cambodia, encouraged Congress to adopt the War Powers Act in 1973 to limit future Presidential actions which might have similar consequences. The Act requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. It forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without Congressional authorization. The Act was passed by two-thirds of the Senate and the House of Representatives, overriding President Nixon's veto. There have been 130 Presidential notifications over the past half-century.

During Lebanon's civil war, Congress passed Public Law 98-119 in August 1982, authorizing President Reagan to station United States Marine Amphibious Units in Lebanon as part of a multi-national force. The Marines were later supported by air strikes and naval gunfire. Congress pressured the President to remove all troops in early 1984 after the situation no longer met the conditions upon which the mission statement was premised. After the elder President Bush stationed a half million US troops in the Middle East in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Congress authorized the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq as Public Law 102-1 in January 1991.

President Clinton kept the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo going for more than two weeks after the 60-day deadline had passed but withdrew United States forces from the region 12 days before the 90-day deadline.

In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed Public Law 107-40 authorizing the use of necessary and appropriate force against those the President determined had planned, authorized, committed, or aided those attacks. Failure of this law to specify any locations has enabled subsequent Presidents to launch classified military campaigns in at least 22 countries with military deployment to Afghanistan, Cuba, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and the Philippines. Some criticize this authorization as a blank check, giving the government unlimited powers to wage war without debate, preferring the President to target terrorists with covert operations through the CIA to avoid the use of military force.

The younger President Bush obtained a second Congressional authorization for military action against Iraq as Public Law 107-243 in October 2002 based on false reports Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

President Obama never received Congressional authorization for the United States' 2011 military intervention in Libya. When United States military forces remained engaged for more than 60 days, President Obama alleged no Congressional authorization was needed because the leadership had been transferred to NATO.

Congress rejected President Obama's 2013 request for authorization to use military force in Syria. Despite Congressional prohibition of the introduction of United States troops into hostilities, President Obama and Trump introduced ground forces into Syria, primarily for training allied forces, and the United States became fully engaged in the country, including the 2017 launch of missiles at Shayrat airbase in Syria.

In 2019, Congress invoked the War Powers Act to end US support for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. President Trump vetoed the action, and Congress could not override that veto.

Notification of President Trump's 2020 assassination of General Qasem Soleimani was clouded by allegations of secrecy, which prevented American voters from assessing the basis for that action. President Trump stated the assassination was justified by the 2002 Congressional authorization for the use of military force against Iraq, and President Trump vetoed Congressional action to prevent further military action.

On March 16, 2023, the Senate advanced a bill to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force by 68 votes to 27. As of this February, the present 118th Congress Foreign Affairs Committee was holding the companion House of Representatives bill H.R.932. Less attention has been paid to the repeal of the 2001 authorization described by the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman in 2021, as the one they need to hang on to because it is critical for continuing operations. Others characterize these continuing military operations as a worldwide war, all the time, everywhere, forever.

5G-grandfathers who sailed with John Paul Jones as a Marine aboard Providence and a sailmaker aboard Ranger inspired AL Wellman's interest in history.

Al Wellman was a second generation United States naval officer whose combat participation was limited to launching guided missiles at RADAR images.

<< 11. Winter Soldier Service Awards13. Letter to Aaron Bushnell (1998-2024) (poem) >>