The resolution to limit Trump's war powers is nothing but an empty political gesture

Robert Robb, Arizona Republic

I’m all for Congress regaining its constitutional role regarding war and trade.

However, the approval by President Donald Trump of the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, isn’t an example of presidential usurpation of Congress’ power to decide when to engage in combat.

Instead, it was a tactical battlefield decision in a military engagement clearly authorized by Congress, and it fell fully within the president’s authority as commander in chief.

Instead of demonstrating a long overdue reassertion of its constitutional right, and duty, to declare war, the War Powers Resolution passed by the House and being considered by the Senate in response to the Soleimani killing further illustrates the unseriousness of Congress. It’s a political exercise, not a true reinvigoration of the separation of powers.

Trump didn't need an OK to take out Solemani

The United States has an ongoing military mission in Iraq. We continue to engage in combat missions against the Islamic State terrorist group. We are training Iraqi forces. And our military presence is intended to quell the possibility of civil war in Iraq.

This military mission has been approved by Congress in various ways. It flows from authorization of force resolutions passed in the aftermath of 9/11 and before launching combat to depose Saddam Hussein. Congress continues to appropriate money for the ongoing military mission in Iraq and has passed no laws to terminate it.

As head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was masterminding and leading hostilities against the U.S. military mission in Iraq. That included bombing military facilities and, recently, storming our embassy.

Soleimani was engaged on the battlefield in Iraq, where the military mission of the United States has been authorized by Congress. What to do about his attacks on U.S. military and diplomatic facilities and personnel was a tactical battlefield decision, vouchsafed the president by the Constitution.

Soleimani was a combatant against the United States. Taking him out was a legitimate option, not one requiring congressional consultation or approval.

If it's serious, overhaul the War Powers Act

Now, Trump has threatened, with unproductive bombast, to take military action directly against Iran, in Iran. But only in retaliation for future attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel, which the War Powers Resolution under consideration would permit anyway.

Tim Kaine’s resolution in the Senate is particularly confused. It claims that the Trump administration has already instituted “hostilities” under the War Powers Act by the maximum pressure campaign it has conducted against Iran.

Trump withdrew from the nuclear weapons accord, which was never approved by Congress, and imposed severe sanctions on Iran, pursuant to authority Congress has given him. The goal is to impel Iran to sign a better, more constraining, nuclear deal.

If Congress doesn’t support Trump’s imposition of sanctions, passing a War Powers Resolution does nothing. Take away his authority to impose the sanctions.

If Congress were serious about regaining its constitutional role of deciding when the United States engages in military conflict, it would massively overhaul the War Powers Act. The law basically gives the president unilateral authority to engage in military conflict anywhere for any reason for up to 90 days. After that, he’s supposed to stop if Congress doesn’t pass an authorization to continue. Or stop a military operation if directed to do by a joint resolution of Congress. Such a resolution, however, is subject to a presidential veto. Under the act, rather than requiring a majority of Congress to initiate the use of military force, it takes a two-thirds vote to stop it.

Otherwise, this resolution does nothing

President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton engaged in extensive bombing campaigns in Libya and the former Yugoslavia while maintaining that they didn’t require congressional approval under the War Powers Act. These were far more serious usurpations of Congress’ war-declaration authority than Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani.

If a War Powers Resolution regarding Iran passes both chambers, it will still allow Trump to do anything that he might do anyway. Trump will veto it nevertheless. And the veto will be sustained, as it was with a resolution seeking to terminate U.S. support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.

So this amounts to a political statement that Congress doesn’t trust Trump and doesn’t want an all-out war with Iran. Press releases to that effect would be just as consequential.

Robert Robb is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter: @RJRobb

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: War Powers Resolution won't stop Trump in Iran. It's an empty gesture.