Reason.tv: All The President's Wars - How Foreign Policy Became One Man's Prerogative

As Barack Obama announces the beginning of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a far bigger issue - one that goes to the heart of American history and government - remains unaddressed.

"That the President has the right to start a war at his pleasure is just completely divorced from the original meaning of the Constitution," says constitutional scholar Gene Healy.

President Bush declared a war on terror that could theoretically extend into any country accused of harboring terrorists, including the United States itself. President Obama not only expanded the war in Afghanistan soon after taking office, he decided to bomb Libya without consulting Congress.

Healy, author of The Cult of the Presidency and an analyst at the Cato Institute, offers a forceful critique of the increasingly expansive role of the president in not only conducting wars but in declaring them. While the Constitution delegates the declaration of war to Congress, Healy stresses that its members are usually more interested in "handing out the bacon and getting re-elected" than in being held accountable for the success and failure of military interventions.

Michael Ramsey, a constitutional scholar and law professor at the University of San Diego, believes that the Constitution grants the president fairly broad war powers, especially in response to attacks, but even he argues that President Obama's recent Libya intervention has no Constitutional justification.

Is this any way to run a country's foreign policy and military might?

Ramsey and Healy sat down with Reason.tv to discuss how presidential war powers have expanded over time - and whether that's a good thing for the United States and the rest of the world.

Produced and Edited by Zach Weissmueller; shot by Paul Feine, Josh Swain, and Jim Epstein. 

About 9 minutes.

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  • Tim||

    I remember well playing Civilization and having my declarations of war over-ruled.

  • Otto||

    Galactic Civilizations II will also override your dec of war - assuming you're not popular enough.

    Hmmm...

  • ||

    I recently read Jefferson's SOTU address in 1801. He referenced a naval attack against US ships off the coast of Libya. Jefferson stated that while the ships had the authority to defend themselves, they were prevented from capturing any Libyan ships, because congress had not declared war.

    Unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense, the vessel, being disabled from committing further hostilities, was liberated with its crew.

    The Legislature will doubtless consider whether, by authorizing measures of offense also, they will place our force on an equal footing with that of its adversaries. I communicate all material information on this subject, that in the exercise of this important function confided by the Constitution to the Legislature exclusively their judgment may form itself on a knowledge and consideration of every circumstance of weight.

    Hamilton later argued, that because Libya had declared war on the United States, and had launched attacks against US naval vessels, a state of war existed, meaning that congress did not need to issue a formal declaration of war.

    Interestingly enough, the Barbary War is the conflict cited the most, by those looking to justify the expanded war power of the President.

  • ||

    Also, from the Constitutional Convention, the founder gave the power to "make war" to the executive, so that the President would have the authority to repel invasion, but not to commence war (p 247)


    Mr. Madison and Mr Gerry moved to insert “declare,” striking out “make” war; leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.

    Mr Sharman thought it stood very well. The Executive shd. be able to repel and not to commence war. “Make” better than “declare” the latter narrowing the power too much.

    Mr Gerry never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war
  • Jordan||

    More evidence that Obama's "constitutional scholar" credentials are a complete joke.

  • cynical||

    Not really. A skilled thief could rightly be called a "security expert", why can't Obama be an expert on the Constitution?

  • ||

    Nobody is arguing that the war in Libya is Constitutional. The only justification I've heard amounts to "what are you gonna do about it?"

  • ||

    Defund the war, impeach the lawbreaker.

  • MrGuy||

    Good luck with that...

  • Crystal Jewelry||

    I think the U.S. military is to the point of frustration.

  • زفات||

    thank you

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