Senate fails to reclaim its war powers, but takes significant step

June 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC—On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted down an amendment by Sen. Tom Udall (NM) to reinforce the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman issued the following statement in response:

“The president has no constitutional authority to launch military strikes against any nation, except only to repel an actual or imminent attack. Our founders knew such power should not be entrusted to one person, so the Constitution divides war powers. The American people should decide through their elected representatives in the House and Senate.

“Even after 9/11, it was Congress who authorized President Bush to go after Al-Qaeda and the Taliban who harbored them in Afghanistan. President Bush went back to Congress to seek a new authorization to invade Iraq. Nearly two decades later, there is no credible argument that the current administration has the authority to go to war with Iran.

“Abdication of Congress’ war powers is an affront to Americans who have a right to be involved, through their representatives, in decisions about war and peace, and an assault on U.S. foreign policy.

“Iran is a middling power that poses no direct threat to the United States. The American people rightly oppose another Middle East war, which is likely to escalate into a prolonged, bloody quagmire or worse, rather than the quick, antiseptic airstrikes its proponents claim.

“War with Iran will harm U.S. security interests by dragging us into years or decades of greater enmity with Iran and its supporters in the region; keeping U.S. forces stuck there; making them targets; and creating massive, enduring costs. And it will fail to achieve a positive strategic outcome. War is unlikely to change Iran’s policies or regime—it is likely to encourage its pursuit of nuclear weapons and entrench hardline policies.

“Attempts to claw back Congress’ power are admirable and should be encouraged. Checks and balances lead to more effective foreign policies, more productive engagement with the world, and safeguard our domestic liberty.”

View a brief explainer on U.S.-Iran policy from Defense Priorities or download the PDF.