TAMPA, August 14, 2012 – Ron Paul insists that the U.S. government shouldn’t go to war without a declaration of war by Congress. His son Rand has also taken this position, as have a few other libertarian-leaning Republican candidates. The U.S. Constitution delegates the declaration of war power to the Congress, but they have not exercised this power since WWII.
Why is this important?
Most people misunderstand the declaration of war power as “permission” to start a war. By that definition, George W. Bush argued that H.J. Res. 114 (October 16, 2002) fulfilled this constitutional requirement regarding the Iraq War. With that resolution, Congress authorized the president to use military force in the war on terror.
The declaration of war power is not the power to start a war. It is the power to declare that a state of war already exists. This can only be true if the nation in question has committed overt acts of war against the United States.
Each time the U.S. Congress has declared war, the resolution has followed the same format.
1. Congress cites the overt acts of war committed by the nation in question against the United States.
2. It recognizes the existence of the war because of those overt acts.
3. It directs the president to utilize the military to end the war.
The process is some what analogous to a criminal trial. The president “makes his case” to Congress that certain actions by a foreign nation amount to acts of war. Congress then deliberates, renders its verdict and passes sentence. The president is directed to execute the sentence.
Here is just one example. When James Polk asked Congress to declare war on Mexico in 1846, he said,