Greenlighting War: Iran and Yemen

Photograph Source: Spc. Hubert Delany, 49th Public Affairs Detachment – Public Domain

On May 7, Republicans proved yet again that most of them are perfectly happy allowing President Donald Trump unchecked discretion to make war.

Senate Joint Resolution 68, introduced on January 9 by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution in an attempt to prohibit President Trump from waging hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran without Congressional authorization. S.J. 68 passed in the Senate, 51-49, on February 13, and in the House of Representatives, 227-186, on March 11. President Trump vetoed S.J. 68 on May 6. The next day, the Senate voted 49 to 44 to override the president’s veto, falling short of the Constitutionally-mandated two-thirds supermajority required for overriding presidential vetoes. And there the matter rests.

“Very Insulting”

Trump’s veto message personalized Congress’ action, as is Trump’s wont, calling the resolution “very insulting.” Trump contended that S.J. 68 was “introduced by the Democrats as part of a strategy to win an election on November 3 by dividing the Republican Party. The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands.”

Actually, S.J. 68 merely restates what the U.S. Constitution mandates. S.J. 68 asserts—correctly—that “Congress has the sole power to declare war under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution.” The resolution adds that “Congress has not yet [!] declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Trump denied that the US was engaged in “hostilities against Iran.” That would surprise Major General Qasem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, but we’d have to hold a séance to be sure. Trump’s veto message insists that Soleimani’s assassination on January 2, 2020 by a US drone was “fully authorized by law, including by the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 and Article II of the Constitution.”

About that. S.J. 68’s text expressly denies that the 2002 AUMF on Iraq authorizes uses of force against Iran. S.J. 68 might have added that both the 2002 AUMF as well as the 2001 AUMF passed in response to Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US on 9/11 have been stretched far beyond what Congress intended. The Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations have employed the resolutions to justify an unending series of presidential wars wherever and on whomever they choose. These blank checks for war should have been bounced years ago.

The vote on May 7 was the second time in two years that Congress has failed to override Trump’s veto of a resolution meant to curtail his power to make war. On April 16, 2019, President Trump vetoed a previous measure invoking the War Powers Resolution in order to force Trump to end US assistance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its genocidal war on Yemen. The 53 to 45 vote in the Senate on May 2, 2019 fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed to override Trump’s veto.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the yearly defense spending bill, which President Trump signed into law on December 21, 2019, contained provisions which would have tied the president’s hands on Iran, forced the US out of Yemen, ended arms sales to the Saudis, and revoked the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. These urgently needed provisions vanished from the NDAA in conference.

Imagine a justice system in which a burglar gets to be the judge of whether he has committed burglary. Trump gets to judge whether he has violated the Constitution. And Republicans, self-proclaimed Constitutional sticklers, are letting him get away with it.

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at