Ken Connor
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In December, 2007, the Boston Globe published a Q&A with then-candidate Barack Obama in which the subject of Executive War Powers was addressed. "In what circumstances, if any," Charlie Savage asked, "would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress?" Mr. Obama's answer was unequivocal in its condemnation of unilateral executive action relating to war:

"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."

Senator Obama went on to address specifically the question of offensive military action Iran, again reiterating his commitment to explicit congressional authorization and suggesting that diplomacy should always precede any decision to go to war:

"As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that 'any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.' The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons."

My, what a difference an election makes. The Senator who made criticism of George W. Bush's "imperial presidency" a cornerstone of his campaign is now, as President, quite oblivious to his own constitutional limitations with regard to executive power. Indeed, it has been observed that President Obama's disregard for the limits of his office exceed anything conceived by his predecessor.

It's encouraging, then, that a bipartisan coalition of representatives have decided to put the Constitution ahead of politics with a resolution taking the President to task for continuing to appropriate resources to the Libyan war effort without congressional approval. Although the resolution doesn't have any real "teeth" behind it, the principle behind it is one that has been increasingly neglected in our republic.

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Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.