Just What Is a Declaration of War?
Antiwar.com's Tom Mullen explains that it is not "a formality whereby the president makes sure that Congress agrees to the use of the military" nor much less "the president 'asking permission' from Congress to do so," but rather "a resolution passed by Congress recognizing that the United States is already at war" — What’s So Important About a Declaration of War? The author continues:
- The intent of the declaration-of-war power is for the government to have an adjudication process for war analogous to a criminal trial for domestic crimes. Evidence must be presented that the nation in question has committed overt acts of war against the United States. The Congress must deliberate on that evidence and then vote on whether or not a state of war exists. The actual declaration of war is analogous to a conviction at a criminal trial. The Congress issues the “verdict” and the president is called upon to employ the military. To wage war without a declaration of war is akin to a lynching: there has been no finding of guilt before force has been employed in response.
Herein lies the difference between H.J. Res. 114 and a declaration of war. In order for President Bush to have obtained a declaration of war against Iraq, he would have had to present his case that Iraq had already committed overt acts of war against the United States. Like a prosecutor, he would have had to convince the “jury” (Congress) that Iraq was guilty—not of “possessing weapons of mass destruction” but of having already committed aggression against the United States. Obviously, he would not have been able to do this. In fact, the absence of any overt acts of war by the nations in question is the reason that there were no declarations of war against Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, or any other nation that the U.S. government has waged war against since WWII.
The declaration-of-war power requires the government to obey the moral principle that no individual or group may initiate force against another. It mandates that before the executive can launch a military action against another nation, a separate body must deliberate on evidence and agree that said nation has committed aggression against the United States. Only then is waging war justified