Mitt Romney Has Some Very Disturbing Opinions On Presidential War Powers
Last year, many conservatives criticized President Obama for authorizing American participation in the UN/NATO operation in Libya without first having sought Congressional approval for the operation. At the time, I joined in that criticism because it seemed pretty obvious to me that the President had unilaterally determined that United Nations Security Council Resolutions were sufficient authority for him to participate in a war against a sovereign nation that had not threatened the vital national interests of the United States. Of course, it was rather obvious that much of the criticism of Obama’s actions was based in pure partisan politics, particularly among people like Newt Gingrich who brazenly criticized the President for doing exactly what he had been calling on him to do just a few weeks beforehand. Notwithstanding the politics, it was good to see at least some Members of Congress attempting to reassert that body’s Constitutional prerogatives in this area.
Unfortunately, because politics was the primary motivation for the criticism of the President’s end-run around Congress, we’re unlikely to hear many Republicans criticizing Mitt Romney for his suggestion yesterday that, as President, he could make war against Iran without seeking Congressional authorization:
SCHIEFFER: Let me turn to foreign policy. Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard this week, says we are reaching the time of consequence in our dealing with Iran on nuclear weapons. He says it is time for the President to go to the Congress and say, “I want you to authorize me to be able to use military force” if that becomes necessary. And he says if the President is not willing to do that, then the Congress should do it themselves. What’s your take on that?
ROMNEY: Well, I can understand the reason for his recommendation and his concern. I think he’s recognized that this president has communicated that in some respects, well, he might even be more worried about Israel taking direct military action than he is about Iran becoming nuclear. That’s the opinion of some who watch this. And so he wants the President to take action that shows that a military Iran, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
And I believe it’s important for us to communicate that. I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the President indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable.
We cannot survive a course of action would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions. All those actions must be on the table.
If anything this an even more brazen thumb in the eye of Separation of Powers and Congressional War Powers than Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya, which was limited mostly to Americans acting in a support role while the British and French conducted most of the combat operations. What Romney is saying is that he, as President, to decide on his own to commit and act of war on behalf of the United States that nearly every analyst who has looked at the issue concludes poses an extremely high risk of exploding into a wider regional war and/or inspiring acts of terrorism against the United States, Israel, and American interests abroad. Economically, the consequences of such a decision could be catastrophic if it results in the explosion in oil prices that most experts in that field expect would come out of any attack against Iran. And Romney believes that, under the Constitution, he would be perfectly free to make the decision to take that down that road all by himself.
Conor Friedersdorf wonders what Senator Rand Paul, who recently endorsed Romney, would have to say about this given what he himself has said about this view of Presidential war making on repeated occasions since taking office last year.
Daniel Larison, meanwhile, questions the logic of Romney’s assertion that America cannot survive a nuclear Iran:
The United States survived decades of containing Soviet power. America outlasted what may have been the greatest security threat in our history partly because of a policy of containment. Iran is far weaker than any threat the USSR ever posed. If the U.S. could not survive a nuclear-armed Iran, a President Romney would be powerless to change that. On the other hand, back in the real world, if the U.S. has little to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran and is more than capable of deterring any threat from Iran, there is no reason to listen to anything Romney has to say on this subject.
Romney obviously does not believe war is a last resort, and he clearly doesn’t believe that the Congress has anything to say about attacking Iran. According to Romney, it is something that the President could do tomorrow if he believed it necessary. The Constitution is completely irrelevant to Romney, and so is the consent of the American people expressed through its representatives. No one should have any illusions about how Romney would conduct foreign policy if he is elected.
And yet you’re unlikely to hear much criticism of Romney for this brazenly unconstitutional position from Republicans, and not a word from them if he indeed becomes President and starts pushing the nation down the road to a war with the Islamic Republic. Given the domestic politics of the Iran issue, you’re not even that likely to hear many Democrats criticize a President Romney under those circumstances.
The ironic thing about this, of course, is that Romney spoke these words on the same weekend that other Republicans are asserting that the President is abusing Executive Branch powers by enacting a change in immigration policy that, in the end, isn’t nearly that revolutionary. I don’t know about you, but I have fewer concerns about a few illegal immigrants than I do about a President who believes he can unilaterally take the nation to war. Even George W. Bush didn’t believe that, and the fact that Mitt Romney can talk about it so casually makes me think that my earlier evaluations of his foreign policy positions were mistaken.
This is unlikely to become an issue in the election, of course. For one thing, Iran is wildly unpopular among American voters and the idea of preventing them from obtaining nuclear weapons is one that has been fairly popular in polling over the years. For another, given his own actions in Libya, the President is hardly in a position to criticize Mitt Romney on an issue like this, and he’s unlikely to want to be seen as weak on the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons (which is one reason why I find assertions from his supporters that Obama would never attack Iran to be mostly specious). Indeed, the President’s actions in Libya directly contradicted what he had said on the issue of Presidential war powers as a candidate for President. But, none of this leaves Romney off the hook. He’s essentially claimed the powers of a dictator, and someone needs to ask him why in the world he thinks an American President should ever have such power.
Update: Kevin Drum argues that Congress bears some responsibility in the extent to which Presidents have expanded their authority in the area of war making, and he’s absolutely correct. As I noted last year, it’s largely Congressional acquiescence that has created this situation.