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July 08, 2008

Baker, Christopher: Repeal, replace War Powers Act

CommissioncoverFormer secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher issued a report today calling the 1973 War Powers Resolution "impractical and ineffective." They urged the next president and Congress to repeal the law and replace it with a new one, the "War Powers Consultation Act of 2009," within 100 days of the new president taking office.

In the report, done under the auspices of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, the National War Powers Commission notes that all presidents have side-stepped the 1973 law's requirement to file a report to Congress once hostilities start. "This is not healthy. It does not promote the rule of law. It does not send the right message to our troops or to the public. And it does not encourage dialogue or cooperation between the two branches," co-chairs Baker and Christopher and their fellow commissioners write.

They note that some conflicts--including the Vietnam War, the  current Iraq war, and  the "war on terror," were specifically authorized by Congress, although there has been acrimonious debate ever  since about what those authorizations implied.  In the first Iraq war, Congress gave its blessing to U.S. military action, but limited it to the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions - ie, expelling Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait. In still other instances--the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989--Congress gave no formal approval.

The new law that the commission proposes is silent on the more than two-century old constitutional debate on what war powers belong with the executive and legislative branches of government. It focuses on the practical, repealing the 1973 law and establishing a Joint Congressional Consultation Committee. The president would be required to consult with this committee before ordering U.S. armed forces into "significant armed conflict." The president would not have to secure Congress' approval, however, but merely consult, and the president could wait until three days after the beginning of conflict if the need for secrecy makes consultation beforehand risky.

Another section of the proposed bill gives Congress more of a say, requiring it to hold a timely vote after the initiation of hostilities. If a resolution of approval is defeated, than a resolution of disapproval would be introduced. It would become law--and force an end to U.S. troop involvement--only if the president signs it, or it is passed over the president's veto.

Is this Constitutional? Practical? Is it likely to end--or even mellow-the War Powers debate?


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Persona non grata

How about we just revert back to the:

US Constitution

Article One

Section 8: The Congress shall have power

To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings

Silly quaint old piece of worthless parchment.

The US needs former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher to help redefine what the definition of the law of the land is, not.

felix random

the proposal seems to provide a propensity for the sneak attack. actually encouraging the president, of whatever species, to ignore the congressional consultants and not admit that we have been secretly and involuntarily committed to the latest chapter of the permanent war for three days. you could launch the big one through a hole that large. what folly

karen marie

astonishing how they can pull so many consistently bad ideas out of the proverbial hat.


"If a resolution of approval is defeated, than a resolution of disapproval would be introduced. It would become law--and force an end to U.S. troop involvement--only if the president signs it, or it is passed over the president's veto."

So, say a resolution of approval is defeated. Then a resolution of disapproval is passed. The President, of course, vetoes it. The House and Senate must override the veto for it to become law, a very high bar, and that fails. The war goes on.

This seems to have the effect of requiring a strong negative action by congress to stop a war the president has started. It turns the constitutional requirement of a positive action -- declaration of war -- into the lack of an overwhelming disapproval requirement. Am I wrong?


Aren't these the same two who gave us Florida 2000?

Why should they be trusted with anything ever again.

Bipartisan, my ass.

Andrew Foland

Hey, I've got a great idea! Just to make sure it super-definitely sticks and there's no way around it, why don't we add an amendment to the Constitution? I've got a rough draft, I'm sure Baker & Christopher could polish it up a little:

"The Congress shall have Power to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water."


I think the whole Commander-in-Chief idea of ONE man/woman being able to commit our whole country to an armed conflict is significantly flawed. In my opinion, we need to come up with a set of very strict criteria for military action which would prevent messes like we have in Iraq. We cannot just go around attacking countries because we think they might at some point pose some sort of nebulous threat to the US.

Charles D

This is clearly the establishment position. It rests on the idea that the US has the right, or even the duty, to intervene militarily anywhere in the world if it finds US "interests" threatened. In the Baker-Christopher version, the executive should at least give the impression that he is consulting with the Congress. It is far, far away from the Constitutional mandate.

As we know from recent history, the executive is unlikely to provide accurate information to the handful of in-crowd legislators if that information might cause them to oppose his policy. That fact makes this policy position laughable.

No one advocates an up or down vote in Congress on a declaration of war in the event of an attack on US soil by a foreign power. No "serious" voice in Washington is suggesting that we should stop interfering militarily when the interests of America's wealthy are threatened. That's what is going on here - make a better charade so we can fool more of the people.

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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