“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making.”
— President Barack Obama
“… creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come.”
— President Barack Obama
Missouri residents must take notice of the news last week of the leaked Office of Legal Counsel’s “white paper” in which the Obama administration’s view that it can kill American citizens, without judicial due process, was revealed. Political pundits have taken this legal view to task since it has become public. Because there are many civil liberties issues at stake, it has become apparent that Congress needs to reinsert itself in the nation’s war-making.
Congress has declared war five times, but not since World War II. In the wake of perceived abuses by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in Vietnam and the Southeast Asian theater of war in the 1960s and 1970s, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution. The purpose of the resolution was to rein in the war-making power of the “imperial president.” Many scholars argue that the unintended consequence of the resolution was to allow the president a two-month window to engage militarily without congressional oversight.
In more recent years, Congress has allowed the president to engage in a global war on terror with little to no oversight of the war effort. This laissez faire attitude led to two presidents expanding a war, and the current president to literally dismiss the War Powers Resolution in Libya in 2011. The Obama administration argued that the United States was not involved in “hostilities” that would trigger requirements of the resolution that the president seek congressional approval for continued operations.
Although individual members of Congress expressed their concerns about Obama ignoring the statutory constraints, as an institution Congress remained flaccid in its response. For too long, no matter which party was in the Oval Office, Congress has been sidelined in the nation’s war efforts.
The publicity surrounding the legal view of this administration, that it can kill Americans while simultaneously ignoring the separation of powers, should be disconcerting to all citizens. It should also sound the clarion call to members of Congress, and their constituents, to give President Obama exactly the congressional aid he claims he needs to establish a “legal architecture” to limit him and future presidents, when it comes to extrajudicial killing of our citizens. This is especially true, as the targeted killings of citizens in countries such as Yemen and other sovereign nations constitute potential acts of war.
Luckily, Missouri residents and our congressional delegation are in a position to rein in this and future presidents. Both Missouri senators, Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Additionally, as senators they have the ability to raise questions about John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for director of the CIA, during his confirmation proceedings about his role, as deputy national security adviser, in establishing the administration’s questionable drone use.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler from Missouri’s 4th District serves on the House Armed Services Committee. She is also the only Missouri delegate who is also a member of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, derisively referred to as the “drone caucus” by its critics. The combination of committee assignment and caucus choice would seem to place Rep. Hartzler in a position of influence over drone policy that is unique within the state.
While we name three members of the Missouri delegation with positions of particular influence, the state’s entire delegation, regardless of party affiliation, should move to position Congress to re-establish itself as a check on undue presidential influence. Residents of Missouri should ask their members of Congress to end the abdication of their duties and rein in the president. After all, President Obama is asking for it.
Tobias T. Gibson is associate professor of political science and security studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Anna E. Holyan is a senior political science major at Westminster College and plans to attend law school after graduating.
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