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The War Powers Act: National Security Case Study


Introduction

The immense loss that United States suffered in the Vietnam War triggered the adoption of polices that curtailed the president’s authority over the military. The War Powers Act of 1973 sought to minimize the constitutional mandate bestowed on the president regarding the deployment of troops by defining regulations requiring the president to seek the consent of the Congress before deploying military forces to areas of combat. The Act allows the president to conduct military operations for a period not exceeding 90 days without a congressional approval once the Congress approves the deployment of forces. However, once the period ends without the president obtaining another congressional endorsement, the War Powers Act requires the immediate withdrawal of all the troops in areas of combat. Since the conception of the War Powers Act, different presidents of the United States have adhered to the Act’s guidelines with varying levels of commitment. An analysis of the 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages In Iran highlights that President Carter violated the regulations of the War Powers Act.

An analysis of President Carter’s Actions

President Carter authorized a military operation to rescue the Iranian hostages without consulting the Congress. He submitted his report about the operation after its completion. The rescue operation ended after more than the 48 hours that the War Powers Act recommends for the president to submit a written report to the Congress (Binnendijk & Kugler, 2006). The operation failed due to the malfunctioning of equipments in the rescue helicopters, which caused the collision of two aircrafts designated for the rescue operation. In this regard, the period between the launching of the rescue operation and withdraw of the rescue team superseded the mandatory 48 hours. Although Carter’s actions did not violated the provisions regarding the need for a congressional consent that would allow the president to deploy troops for 90 days, his late submission of the first report regarding the rescue mission was not in accordance with the War Powers Act.

The War Powers Act does not provide exemptions for military operations regarded as clandestine. One of Carter’s reasons for the failure to obtain congressional consent was that the Iranian rescue mission needed utmost secrecy to avoid jeopardy. In this regard, he violated the War Powers Act in his attempt to avoid exposing both the military personnel and hostages to extreme danger during the rescue operation. Despite the size of the Congress, which constitutes of about 535 members, the War Powers Act demands that the president should not make a decision that does not encompass the views of members of the Congress (Fierke, 2007).

The Act does not provide exemptions in rescue missions that rely on secrecy to sustain optimal security. Carter described the Iranian rescue mission as not constituting of acts of aggression and thus did not require a congressional consent. However, the scope of the rescue mission exposed the military personnel to hostility and thus the operation was in accordance to the standards of military engagement regulated by the War Powers Act. Reactions from the group responsible for the hostage situation illustrated that they would have resisted the rescue mission violently thus creating a combat situation.

The constitutional authority bestowed upon the president concerning the deployment of troops abroad in non-combat situations does not incorporate aspects of the time limit the troops will spend overseas. In this regard, the Congress has no authority to dictate the period within which the president should submit a report regarding a peaceful mission. In addition, the constitution exempts the president from the need to consult with the Congress when making decisions regarding the deployment of troops for peacekeeping missions. However, the Iranian rescue mission entailed the deployment of military personnel to a hostile area and thus congressional consent was necessary (Pohlman, 2004). Although the Iranian mission entailed humanitarian operations to rescue Americans who faced hostility in a foreign country, it constituted of the basic characteristics of a military engagement.

The War Powers Act does not exempt the president form the need to consult with the Congress before authorizing a rescue mission even if the success of the operation should be a surprise. The decision by President Carter to launch the rescue operation without congressional consent arose from the need for optimal conditions of success, which were attainable if a few individuals knew about the operation. The Congress expressed dismay that despite the ongoing meetings since the Iranian crisis began, the president opted to remain silent about the actual rescue exercise. Evidence shows that Carter outlined the plans for the rescue mission to the Majority Leader of the Senate before the mission began (Viotti, 2005). However, he did not inform the Congress that the operation was underway. Carter described the demands by the Congress for consultations in the decision-making about the rescue attempt as a factor that would have considerably delayed the execution of the rescue mission.

An evaluation of the War Powers Act shows that it conflicts with the Article II of the US constitution, which gives the president authority over the deployment of troops overseas. Thus, while the president violated the War Powers Act, he acted in accordance with his constitutional power. The War Powers Act does not explicitly define the scope of the congressional authority in situations of war. The Act gives the Congress the authority to reject the declaration of war by the president. However, it recognizes the president as the commander of the armed forces. In this regard, the scope of the powers of the president concerning the deployment of military personnel in rescue missions is ambiguous and thus subject to debate.

Conclusion

The implementation of the War Powers Act largely sought to minimize the risk of accountability considering that there were no constitutional reviews to deprive the president his authority as the commander of the armed forces. An evaluation of the Congress’ reaction to the Cambodia rescue mission authorized by President Ford and the Iranian hostage rescue mission illustrates that the enforcement of the War Powers Act has been subject to the outcomes of events involving combat. The Congress reacted positively to the Cambodia mission despite the fact that President Ford violated various provisions in the War Powers Act by inappropriately using funds designated for combat operations involving the US military. However, since the mission was a success, the risk of accountability was minimal. The Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees the conduct of military operations, praised the rescue mission as having adhered to the War Powers Act. However, the failure of the Iranian rescue mission attracted a lot of criticism from the Congress. The chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee denounced Carter’s actions terming them as a gross violation of the War Powers Act.

References

Binnendijk, H., & Kugler, R. L. (2006). Seeing the elephant the U.S. role in global security. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press.

Fierke, K. M. (2007). Critical approaches to international security. Cambridge: Polity.

Pohlman, H. L. (2004). Constitutional Debate in Action: Governmental powers (2nd ed.). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Viotti, P. R. (2005). American foreign policy and national security: a documentary record. Trenton: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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IvyPanda. "The War Powers Act: National Security." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-powers-act-national-security/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The War Powers Act: National Security." May 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-powers-act-national-security/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) 'The War Powers Act: National Security'. 21 May.

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