Santorum: Truman Should’ve Sought Authority from Congress Before Korean War

March 25, 2011 - 3:03 PM

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.)

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.)

(CNSNews.com) - Does the president of the United States have the constitutional power to send the U.S. military into action overseas on the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution while lacking authorization from the U.S. Congress?

In a January “Online With Terry Jeffrey” interview, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), a potential presidential candidate, told CNSNews.com that he believed President Harry Truman had been wrong to commit U.S forces to a war in Korea without first seeking authorization from Congress.

“My feeling is he should’ve come to the United States Congress and asked for its approval to authorize the war,” Santorum said of Truman’s decision.

As a senator, Santorum voted to authorize the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Since President Barack Obama announced last Saturday that the U.S. military would intervene in Libya’s civil war in order to carry out a United Nations Security Council resolution, there has been considerable debate about whether Obama had the constitutional authority to unilaterally order such an action without congressional authorization.

President George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention, clearly did not think he had the sort of power Obama now claims.

When asked about taking offensive (as opposed to defensive) action against elements of the Creek Indian tribe that had attacked Americans, Washington made clear he believed he had no power to do so unless and until Congress authorized it.

"The Constitution," Washington wrote in a 1793 letter to South Carolina Gov. William Moultrie, "vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure."

In his statement last Saturday announcing his decision to use the U.S. military against the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi, President Obama expressly stated that he was doing so because “the writ of the international community must be enforced.”

“So we must be clear,” Obama said. “Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced.  That is the cause of this coalition.”

Here is what former Sen. Rick Santorum had to say about the limits of the president’s power to use military force without prior congressional authorization:

CNSNews.com Editor in Chief Terry Jeffrey: Now, senator, I’d like to turn to national security policy. Going back to the Constitution: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution says that Congress shall have the power to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water. Back in 1787, in the Constitutional Convention, when that issue came up, the original draft of the Constitution said that Congress shall have the power to “make” war and James Madison in his notes from the convention made the following notation. “Mr. Madison and Mr. Gerry moved to insert declare striking out make war leaving to the executive the power to repel sudden attacks. Mr. Sherman thought it stood very well. The executive should be able to repel and not to commence war.” Quote unquote.

In other words, the Framers, according to Madison’s notes, originally were looking at giving Congress the whole power of war, but then they decided that they would change it from “make” to “declare” in order to give the president the power to repel sudden attacks. When you were in Congress you voted twice to authorize the use of force overseas, once in Afghanistan and once in Iraq and there were some people who counseled President Bush that he did not did not need the authorization of Congress, that he could have put armies in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq without congressional authorization.

Where do you stand on that? Did he need your approval?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.): I thought he should get the approval of the Congress. I thought it was important for the president to conduct any kind of major military conflict/action that was going to commit substantial resources and lives of our troops before the Congress and have it debated before the American public. What’s the difference? It’s a very difficult analysis as to, you know, some, a small military encounter for--that may do something like was unfortunately in Somalia versus a major commitment of resources. And I think when it comes to a major commitment of resources, the president should come to Congress and we should do, Congress should do a resolution of approval 

Jeffrey: So bottom line is there’s no way the president could have initiated a war in Iraq and Afghanistan without prior approval from Congress?

Santorum: Again, it’s a tricky situation. I would say that if there was a need for the president to get involved in an activity around the world, anywhere around the world, not just repelling an invasion but striking into a foreign country, if there is a timeliness to it that would enhance the security of the country than I would say that the declaration part of the Constitution means the Congress states what is so, to declare something such.

There’s one thing that if there needs to be action prior to a declaration, but I think to conduct a campaign, to conduct a war as opposed to an isolated strike or something that may be necessary because of a timely situation, then he should go to Congress. I don’t want to limit the president’s power to act if necessary quickly before Congress deliberates and decides in order to preserve the security of the country.

Jeffrey: Well, let me give you a possible real-world place to draw the line. In Grenada, there were U.S. medical students who were in imminent danger and there was a treaty organization to which the United States belonged where signatories were saying we want your help there. There were Cuban Communist forces on the ground, building an air base that could’ve launched planes that could reach to attack the United States.

Santorum: And Ronald Reagan acted. 

Jeffrey: And Ronald Reagan acted. He went in there. He protected these medical students.

Santorum: And he didn’t go to the Congress and ask for that.

Jeffrey: He did not go to the Congress, but he did not launch a protracted war.

Santorum: Right. That’s what I said. It’s a different situation. That’s a better example than Somalia frankly. That’s a situation where we went in for an isolated specific purpose, that the probability of a long-term war was actually pretty limited.

Jeffrey: So, if you were a counsel to Ronald Reagan and someone said, Mr. Reagan, James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, whose own notes in the Constitutional Convention says the president could repel a sudden an attack--

Santorum: Well, I would make the argument that when you are out there defending American citizens from a potential attack that’s repelling an attack, while not on American soil, it’s certainly in the interest of America.

Jeffrey: Okay, this was within the spirit of the Constitution, defending America from imminent threat?

Santorum: I think the spirit of the Constitution was to give the president the flexibility to act in the national security interest of the country if a pressing situation occurred. If it’s an isolated one that’s easy, then you never have to go to Congress. If it’s a potential for a protracted one that doesn’t mean the president still has to wait, he can act if there’s a need to act promptly but then follow up if it’s going to be a long commitment and get the Congress involved.

Jeffrey: And that line exists somewhere between Reagan’s move on Grenada, which does not--

Santorum: Which to me is a clear cut one.

Jeffrey: And on the other side of the line clearly is George Bush invading Afghanistan?

Santorum: Correct. And that’s one of those things that we will be debating, and, hopefully, in the future we won’t have to be debating, but I suspect at some point of the future of America we will be again.

Jeffrey: Well, let me give you another real historical case. Harry Truman committed the United States to war in Korea after the U.N. had approved such a war but before the United States Congress had done so. Was that legitimate?

Santorum: My feeling is he should’ve come to the United States Congress and asked for its approval to authorize the war.