In December of 2007, while then Senator Obama was running for the Office of the President, Boston.com sat down with the candidate for a Q & A session.
The question from interviewer Charlie Savage asked Mr. Obama about Presidential authority to initiate a military attack under the Constitution:
In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
Mr. Obama, at one time a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, responded with a clear and concise view on the matter:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that â€œany offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.â€
While President Obama and his counterpart in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron, believe that the military action in Libya has been authorized, and is legitimate and legal, it is only legal with respect to United Nations’ bylaws and treaties.
The United States, however, requires the approval of Congress to engage in war, as stated by Mr. Obama in December of 2007. While the actions of Libya’s long-time leadership may be perceived abhorrent and morally unjust, it does not justify US involvement – especially unilateral decision making, with respect to US law, on the part of the President.
The United States was not in danger because of Libya’s actions against its people. There was no imminent threat.
Regardless of what the United Nations has or has not authorized, the People of the United States, by law, require Congressional approval for such an action.
This is a prime example of why our Founders were adamant about the system of checks and balances.