Sneaky declarations bypass Congress to take US to war

The Korean War ended in 1953, but its legacy still lingers in American war-making policy today.

At a recent conference on “The Unending Korean War” at New York University, the keynote speaker, Bruce Cumings, a history professor at the University of Chicago, explained that the UN provided the means for the then US President Harry S. Truman to bypass the US Congress in intervening in the Korean War.

Under Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution, the power to declare war is vested in the Congress. But in June 1950, Truman did not go to Congress for a declaration of war.

Instead, Cumings explained, “The UN was the legislature that the US knew they would get a majority vote in.” At the time, the Soviet Union was refusing to participate in the UN Security Council, and the Chinese seat was held by representatives from Taiwan.

There would likely have been a challenge to a declaration of war in the US Congress. Hence it was the UN that provided the appearance of legitimacy for the US role in the Korean War, explained Cumings.

The Korean War, according to Cumings, was the first time the US went to war without a congressional declaration. “The US executive branch hasn’t gotten one (a congressional declaration of war) since,” Cumings noted.

The current case of Libya is the most recent instance of a president going to war without the needed constitutional authorization.

Instead of US President Barack Obama going to the US Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Libya, he went to the Arab League and the UN Security Council, explains Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic congressman from Ohio.

Kucinich is one of several US congressmen objecting to Obama’s bypassing Congress with the military campaign against Libya.

Kucinich pointed out that a no-fly zone begins with an attack on the air defenses of Libya which is an “act of war.”

“War from the air is still war,” he argued in a press statement on March 18, one day after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, the resolution authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya.

Other congressmen from both parties have protested Obama’s bypassing his constitutional obligation to go to Congress for a declaration of war, before taking military action against another country, especially when that other country has not attacked the US.

In December 2007, before he became president, Obama acknowledged that going to war without a congressional authorization was a violation of the US Constitution.

Obama is quoted as saying, “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.”

Kucinich illustrates how Obama’s failure to defer to congressional authority to declare war represents a serious failure of US democracy.

For Congress to determine whether or not to issue a declaration of war against Libya would require not only debate and discussion, but also a process of raising needed questions about the nature and merits of military intervention.

Questions like “what is behind the plan for intervening in the Libyan crisis?” and “what is the goal of the intervention?” are but a few of the questions that Kucinich says need to be considered before such an intervention is authorized by the Congress.

In a speech he made to Congress on March 31, Kucinich recalled the experiences of the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, where a supposed attack on US ships was used as an excuse for war, as well as the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

These examples demonstrate the need for Congress to examine the facts being presented whenever a US president makes the claim that war is necessary.

“We have learned from bitter experience,” Kucinich warned, “that the determination to go to war must be based on verifiable facts carefully considered.”

By Ronda Hauben

This article is originally posted in the Global Times. Here is the address:

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