War Powers Experts Say Offensive Action in Iraq Needs Congressional Backing

A group of war powers experts assembled by The Constitution Project warned that President Obama must come to Congress for approval before any use of offensive military force to address the conflict in Iraq.

On June 19, Obama announced his plans to send up to 300 advisers to that war-torn country at a White House press conference.  While he said the advisers would not be engaged in combat, he indicated he is “prepared to take targeted and precise military action” if necessary.  The experts cautioned that such a step, including through targeted air strikes or drone attacks, would exceed his constitutional authority.

In separate letters sent to the President and Congressional leaders the following day, the group said neither the 2001 nor 2002 laws that allowed President Bush to engage in military actions against al-Qaeda and to invade Iraq “could have contemplated, much less authorized, military intervention in the current conflict.”  Some congressional leaders suggested Obama might have such powers, statements the war powers experts called deeply concerning.

The group also cautioned that any interpretation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that would allow the president to “use force for 60 days to intervene in Iraq absent congressional authorization is unconstitutional.”

The group of experts signing the letter includes: former Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), who served as chair of the House Republican Policy Committee; former Congressman David Skaggs (D-Colo.), who served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Dr. Louis Fisher, Scholar in Residence at The Constitution Project, who worked for the Library of Congress for four decades as a specialist in constitutional law and separation of powers, and who authored the 2013 book, Presidential War Power; and, Professor Peter Raven-Hansen, co-director of the National Security and U.S. Foreign Relations Law Program at George Washington University Law School.  All four are members of TCP’s War Powers Committee.

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