The Problematic Ambiguity of the War Powers Resolution

American military intervention into foreign conflicts is not a new phenomenon—having been dubbed the ‘world’s policeman’ by itself and others since the end of the Second World War. Lately however, in light of the intervention in Libya and now the problem of Syria, there has been a lot of talk about what is and isn’t legal, or constitutional, in committing American troops to foreign conflicts. The document that, theoretically, governs this, is the War Powers Resolution (WPR) of 1973, which dictates that the President must get permission from Congress in order to commit troops to conflict zones. The WPR has not been popular among Presidents, with every one of them since ’73 declaring it unconstitutional, and was openly violated by Presidents Reagan and Clinton. One of the main reasons for people stating that the recent intervention in Libya was illegal is because it violated the WPR—sort of, it’s a bit of a grey area. Now, whatever his political motivations, President Obama is asking Congress for permission for a military strike on Syria, which is almost exactly in line with what the WPR dictates, but we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out I guess.

As you may have noticed from this short overview, the WPR is a bit problematic, it has been called alternately unconstitutional and integral to the system of checks and balances, it has been violated twice with no legal action having been taken, and is more or less disregarded by all presidents as a hindrance to Presidential power. Basically there’s a lot of grey area, which is rather problematic for a law that dictates much of the legal basis for American military intervention. Given this, my paper will focus on analysing the WPR—whether it is constitutional, to what extent, if any, does it need to be amended, or even repealed entirely, what it says about presidential v. congressional power, etc. My thesis and specific essay plan are still works in progress, but if any of you have any input at all, that would be much appreciated.

Have a great fall term and looking forward to seeing you all in D.C!

Charlotte Smith

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