In 2007, President Barack Obama gave a clear statement of his understanding of the law of war in the United States: Congress must authorize any military action that does not pose an imminent threat to the United States of America. Obama said:
“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
New U.S. Representative Justin Amash quoted this statement by Barack Obama in justification of his opposition to the entry of the U.S. military into the civil war in Libya. The attacks by the U.S. military began with just one day’s prior announcement to the American public, and with no opportunity for a congressional vote either authorizing or forbidding war between the United States and the government of Moammar Qaddafi. Amash then stated, “Under the President’s and my reading of the Constitution, the U.S. must halt all strikes against Libya. I call on congressional leadership to reconvene session so we can vote on whether to authorize military action.”
Amash is a Republican, but his condemnation of the sudden start of the new war, without opportunity for debate and the constitutionally-required congressional action was joined by criticism from Democrats in Congress. Mike Capuano, in rection to the U.N. Security Council resolution of last week, stated, “Unless a crisis threatening our security requires an immediate emergency action, I believe that the Constitution and the War Powers Act clearly demand that only Congress may authorize the use of force. I feel strongly that Congress, not the President acting alone and not the United Nations, must decide when to put U.S. troops in harm’s way,” and Dennis Kucinich noted, in a conference call with other outraged Democrats, that Obama’s actions constitute an impeachable offense.