President Trump says he’s “locked and loaded,” ready to potentially strike Iran or whoever the culprit for new attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities may be. Saudi officials are blaming Iranian weapons for the attack last weekend on their largest processing facility, and U.S. officials have claimed that Iran was the “staging ground” for the assault.
The war drums are beating in Washington, D.C.
But there are plenty of reasons why prudence demands the United States does not pull the trigger. For one, there is no formal defense alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which means that we are not obligated to come to their defense.
And Iran, never content with exhibiting weakness, would most certainly respond if American missiles started flying into their airspace. There is no way for President Trump to be confident that a U.S. operation against Tehran wouldn’t spiral into a full-blown war. Indeed, this is one reason Pentagon officials are counseling restraint.
One of the most compelling reasons Trump should not launch an attack, however, is constitutional. Without an authorization from Congress, an attack against Iran would be illegal, unconstitutional, and a violation of separation of powers.
The president may be the commander in chief, but the Congress holds the ultimate power over when and where the country goes to war. And make no mistake: a barrage of cruise missiles launched at Iranian targets is an act of war, plain and simple.
The Constitution, supplemented by the 1973 War Powers Act, is about as black and white as it gets: The president can only authorize a strike without congressional approval under extremely limited circumstances, such as in response to an armed attack or to prevent an imminent attack.
With these rare exceptions, the president must approach lawmakers to make the case for why a military operation is necessary, appropriate, and in the best interest of the United States. If lawmakers don’t buy the argument, then there is nothing more to discuss.
Somewhere along the way, we have become accustomed to watching our presidents deploy the military with the legislative branch on the sidelines. Whether it be our strikes in Iraq in the 1990s, Libya in 2011, Syria in 2014, and Syria again in 2017, Congress has time and time again sat idly by as the executive branch has expanded its military power with little resistance.
This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. Let this latest flare-up with Iran serve as a warning to lawmakers that they ought to reclaim their war powers before another conflict breaks out.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner‘s Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.
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