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Editorial Commentary: Ken Ciboski

Ciboski: War Powers


A dramatic assumption of power by presidents has been their role as commander-in-chief. Since 1950, presidents have committed American military forces to combat without a formal declaration of war and with the acquiescence of Congress. How many Americans today know that Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution grants the power to declare war exclusively to Congress?

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt asked a joint session of Congress to declare war on Japan and Germany. That was the last time any president went to Congress for a declaration of war. Since the end of World War II in 1945, some 100,000 Americans have died in combat and there have been about 1 million additional casualties. That is about the same number who died in World War I, and more than were wounded in World War II.

Around 37,000 Americans died in the Korean War, which President Truman called a United Nations “police action.” In the Vietnam War, waged by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans lost their lives in combat. President George H.W. Bush sent nearly 300,000 troops in the defense of Saudi Arabian oil fields after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Congress passed the War Powers resolution in 1973, intended to curb presidents from unilaterally deploying military personnel in combat, but as we have seen, it has not been fully effective in doing so.