Obama: ‘President Does Not Have Power Under Constitution to Unilaterally Authorize a Military Attack’

March 21, 2011 - 5:13 PM

Barack Obama, presidential candidate

Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), campaigning for president on Sept. 21, 2008, in Charlotte, NC.. (AP photo/Chuck Burton)

(CNSNews.com) - As a presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) emphatically stated that the Constitution does not give the president the authority to unilaterally authorize a military attack unless it is needed to stop an actual or imminent attack on the United States.

Obama made the assertion in a Dec. 20, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe when reporter Charlie Savage asked him under what circumstances the president would have the constitutional authority to bomb Iran without first seeking authorization from Congress.

“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,” Obama responded.

“As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States,” Obama continued. “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.”

Obama did not seek congressional authorization before joining allies, including Great Britain and  France, in taking military action against the regime of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi in order to establish a no-fly zone over that country. The action was approved by the United Nations Security Council but not by the U.S. Congress.

In a followup question in its December 2007 interview, the Boston Globe asked Obama if the Constitution gave the president the power to disregard a congressional statute putting some type of limit on the way troops could be deployed.  Here, too, Obama deferred to the constitutional authority of Congress.

“No, the President does not have that power,” Obama told the paper. “To date, several Congresses have imposed limitations on the number of US troops deployed in a given situation. As President, I will not assert a constitutional authority to deploy troops in a manner contrary to an express limit imposed by Congress and adopted into law.”