How Americans Decide to Go to War

    08 January 2020

    Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump defended his targeted killing of an Iranian general.

    Qassem Soleimani was the head of Iran's Quds Force. He died last Friday in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport.

    His death increased tensions in the area. Iran has already answered by firing missiles into Iraq. The missiles landed at two military bases that house U.S. troops.

    US President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, January 8, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
    US President Donald Trump speaks about the situation with Iran in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, January 8, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

    No casualties from that attack were reported. Trump did not speak Wednesday about using additional military force against Iran. Instead, he said he would put more economic restrictions on the country.

    But many American lawmakers are expressing concerns about open war between the two countries. They will vote this week on a measure to prevent U.S. military forces from taking action against Iran unless Congress approves.

    How does the U.S. declare war?

    The U.S. Constitution says Congress has the authority to declare war. And it says the president is the commander-in-chief of the military.

    The men who wrote the Constitution divided these powers on purpose. They wanted to prevent one person or group from making a sudden move toward war without others in the government agreeing.

    But lawmakers and the president have often clashed over how to operate within the rules of the Constitution. The last time Congress officially declared war was almost 80 years ago, during World War II. American military actions since then have happened without an official declaration of war.

    In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act to further define the president's role in directing military actions. The law required that U.S. presidents had 38 hours to report to Congress after committing U.S. forces to military actions overseas. The president must also officially say why she or he is committing forces.

    In 2001, lawmakers and the president worked together to create a resolution permitting actions to answer terrorist threats. It is called the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF. The AUMF is unusual because it permits actions against groups or people, as opposed to nations or areas.

    The resolution has created debate under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump. All three leaders have used the AUMF's large definition of a terrorist threat to say military actions are needed.

    What does Trump say?

    Observers say Trump appears to be using his ability to strike under the War Powers Act, which permits the president to use military force to answer an attack. Trump's government noted intelligence they say pointed to planned attacks on Americans as a reason for the airstrike.

    In a tweet on Sunday, Trump wrote, "These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!"

    How is Congress reacting?

    Lawmakers from the opposition party to the president, the Democrats, have expressed concerns about how Trump's government told lawmakers about the airstrike. Some want to require Trump to discuss increasing hostilities against Iran with Congress and the public before taking action.

    For his part, Trump on Wednesday called on the security alliance of NATO to become "much more involved in the Middle East process."

    I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

    This report comes from the Associated Press and VOA. Kelly Jean Kelly adapted it for Learning English. George Grow and Caty Weaver were the editors.


    Words in This Story

    casualty - n. a person who is hurt or killed during an accident, war, etc.

    authority - n. the power to give orders or make decisions : the power or right to direct or control someone or something

    role - n. a part that someone or something has in a particular activity or situation

    commit - v. to decide to use something for some particular purpose or use

    disproportionate - adj. having or showing a difference that is not fair, reasonable, or expected : too large or too small in relation to something

    nevertheless - adv. in spite of what has just been said