The days of congressional declarations of war are long gone, not passed for any of the many United States wars since World War II. In recent decades, Congress has passed authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) to hand over to the executive branch discretion to choose to go to war against a certain county or to achieve a certain objective. AUMFs provide Congress members distance from the ensuing wars so they can duck responsibility or claim credit after reviewing measured public opinion.
Did the AUMF system reach a new low this week with the House of Representatives approving a resolution apparently authorizing the executive branch to go to war against Iran?
Resolved, That the House of Representatives declares it is the policy of the United States—
(1) that a nuclear Islamic Republic of Iran is not acceptable;
(2) that Iran must not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon under any circumstances or conditions;
(3) to use all means necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; and
(4) to recognize and support the freedom of action of partners and allies, including Israel, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“[i]t is the policy of the United States … to use all means necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the House has declared. “All means necessary” is the type of language US politicians and officials routinely use when indicating that military force is an option. So this sure looks like a declaration that the US executive branch can use military force against Iran should the executive branch decide that is the means it wishes to pursue to prevent nuclear proliferation.
This conclusion is buttressed by the absolutist terming in the resolution that it is US policy that Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is “not acceptable” and that the ability to obtain such must not exist “under any circumstances or conditions.”
The resolution, though, may even be interpreted to go beyond authorizing President Joe Biden or his successor to choose to make war on Iran. The resolution arguably declares the US executive branch must “support” Israel, by name, and any other US “partners and allies” in any action they may take to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Thus, it appears the House may through the resolution shift congressional war declaration power not just to the US executive branch, but to the government of Israel for sure and to additional nations or entities (NATO, maybe) that may independently choose to take military action against Iran.
Looking to the “whereas” clauses of the resolution that precede its declaration of US policy, the resolution makes assertions that the US executive branch or decision makers in the Israel government and elsewhere could repeat to make their case that military action against Iran is just what is needed without delay to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons. These assertions include the following:
Whereas at a press conference in January 2023, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated regarding Iran: “One thing is true: They have amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons.”;
Whereas, in March 2023, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, testified that “Iran could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks and would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon.”
That and the rest of the “whereas” clauses could be copied and pasted right into President Joe Biden’s or the leader of another nation or entity’s written justification for using military force against Iran. The “whereas” clauses may be all wet. But, if the House has approved them, they carry weight nonetheless.
War drums are sounding on Capitol Hill.
Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.