When the War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973, the hope was that the executive’s power to wage unsanctioned warfare would be abolished, or at the very least curbed. Former U.S. President Richard Nixon and those before him spent hundreds of thousands of dollars entrenching the country and its resources in a fruitless conflict in Vietnam. Congress reasoned that this sort of unfettered, delinquent foreign policy could be reigned in by directive of the House and Senate – doubtless the most shrewd, dovish, and introspective of the government’s appendages. The resolution called for the President to notify Congress within two days of committing military troops to any foreign conflict, further requiring that “within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted…the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted … unless the Congress … has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces,” essentially forbidding the executive from utilizing military force for more than 60 days without the express approval of the American legislature or a formal declaration of war.
Of course, since the otherwise entirely reasonable aspirations of the resolution do not sit well with the American military-industrial establishment, the U.S. government has overseen several contraventions of the Act since it was first passed 46 years ago. The United States military interventions in Kosovo, Libya, and Syria were dispensed almost entirely without referral to the House or Senate, despite ardent objection by several key members of the legislature.
Our most recent violation, however – that of U.S. President Donald Trump dedicating American munitions, resources, and targeting support to Saudi detachments in the Yemeni Civil War – has prompted Congress to invoke the Act against the President. After a difficult, protracted mission to pass the measure in the House, and attempts by Senate Republicans to tank the bill by attaching a bizarre condemnation of the pro-Palestine BDS movement, the Senate finally passed the bill on April 4.
The passage of this proclamation is a decidedly rare example of Congress exercising its check on executive authority, and an equally rare opportunity to be genuinely proud of the work done in the House and Senate. The Yemeni Civil War has been one of the most vicious, destructive wars in the Middle East since its commencement in March of 2015, with fighting between Islamic “Houthi” rebels and the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi claiming an average of 63 civilians per day as a combination of murder by combatants, starvation, and the unfettered outbreak of illnesses like cholera. Of these civilians, nearly 85,000 were children who died of hunger.
Thus far, the United States’ main role in this brutal conflict has mostly consisted of intelligence, weapons sales, and logistics to a Saudi-led airstrike campaign which indiscriminately bombs regions inside Shi’a Houthi territory; these airstrikes have often hit residential and civilian areas, razing hospitals, schools, and wedding parties. It behooves us to, at the very least, minimize our role in this suffering, both strategically (fomenting further U.S. antipathy in the Middle East is not in the national interest) and morally (aiding in the murder of noncombatants and children is wrong). Yet Trump, whose callous disregard for the integrity of human life has landed him in similar situations before, is contemplating a veto on the basis of “serious constitutional concerns.” With the resolution reaching Trump’s desk sometime this week or next, one can only hope that Trump’s conscience – or, more likely, his need to be deified – will result in a signature.