Strike against Iranian general, without Congress’s approval, not out of the ordinary in recent US history

Posted 8 January 2020 at 10:34 pm


The Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, we just killed had posed a danger to the US for decades. No American laments his death. Now they have responded.

I simply write about the carefully crafted procedures that are being debated as part of everyone thinking on what happened and how the Country proceeds.

Under our Constitution only Congress can declare war and has the power of the purse. The President is the Commander in Chief, constrained only by law, treaty, and international laws to which we have agreed.

After that everything involving the military gets muddled with overlapping laws and procedures. For example, President Regan signed Executive Order 12333 which prohibits assassinating a leader of a foreign government – inter alia  President Nixon was caught assassinating the elected President of Chile.

Another example came up when President Johnson staged the partly fictitious Gulf of Tonkin naval battle so be sure we became involved in Vietnam. In response Congress was concerned about being drawn into wars through the back door and enacted the War Powers Act requiring that it be consulted immediately if military force was used except in the event of emergency self defense.  (Nixon vetoed it but 70 percent of each house overrode the veto.)

More recently in 2002 the President was given the power to deal with 9/11-related terrorism. Presidents have relied on “related” terrorism to justify their actions ever since. Both sides of the aisle from time to time debate if Presidents have gone too far in relying on that authorization.  (That clearly is going to come up again now.) (When President Obama asked for permission to go into Syria after chemical weapons were used – when Syria crossed the “red line” he had set –  that was not related to terrorism and Congress refused a Declaration of War.)

Since the Constitution, laws and executive orders overlap as a practical matter, the President and Congress consult all the time about how to best protect the Country.

As far as you and me are concerned everyone has their opinion but none of us is fully informed.  A few things are clear though. First, Iran is a sophisticated and powerful country with many surrogates. It does not want our small contingencies of troops and planes in its way as it attempts to dominate the Mideast.

Second, you and me may never learn all the facts – unless there are lies involved. Third, as a legal and practical matter, Congress will need to be briefed and involved. It may need to fund new military or defense capabilities. It may need to reinstate conscription. It may decide that the Administration needs entirely new Agencies or Departments to address a changed threat.

It is part of Congress’s job to sure that the Administration is up to the task now required and has the capability it needs in place to actually prevail. It has had to step in before and may or may not now.

I hope this letter helps clarify who does what and why to keep us safe as well as limit mistakes, lies, and political games.  We are a superpower economically; we are a superpower militarily; we still have most of our superpower resources diplomatically.

Our democracy is well developed and as long as everyone honors it, we have managed and will continue to whether the storms that come no matter how much we argue to find optimal solutions.

Conrad F. Cropsey