"2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
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.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. 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. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.”
However, it seems that somewhere along the lines, Congress got left out of the process in favor of the United Nations Security Council and “the court of international opinion.” While I’m sure the people at the Security Council and in the “court of international opinion” are all well-intentioned people, they have no accountability to the American people. The decision to commit American military forces to a conflict rightly lies within the sovereignty of the American people and, the whims of France and the UK should not trump that sovereignty.
The wisdom of engaging in this conflict is also highly debatable. Effectively what we have here is yet another African, tribal civil war. What strategic interests is the United States protecting by embroiling itself in this conflict? Why is this particular situation special, differentiating it from similar situations in other countries (e.g. Iran, Sudan, etc.)? In short, what’s our bone in this fight? Answering some of these questions might be a little easier if the President were capable of projecting some sort of leadership in this situation. It might be easier to agree or disagree with his decision if he at least said what his decision is. Right now, there appears to be no clear strategy and no clear goal. The best I can tell, Europe decided it doesn’t want Gaddafi killing people, and Obama kind of sort of agrees with them.
There’s also the fiscal issue. Our military forces are already committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This by itself raises several questions. Does our military have the capability to successfully execute three different wars at the same time? War tends to be expensive, and with the highest annual budget deficits in history, will our military have the resources to put forth its best effort in all three conflicts? There’s also the human cost. While some defense systems are automated, you generally need to use real people to take out the bad guys. Does our military even have enough people to conduct these campaigns without producing an undue strain on our armed services? Considering that the vast majority of our armed services are real people and not robots, this is a question that deserves due consideration.
What is lacking in this whole situation is any sense of leadership from Obama. He has left dozens of questions about this conflict unanswered and seems to have made this decision on the spur of the moment. He hasn’t even attempted to rally the American people behind his decision largely because he hasn’t really made one. This is a rather inauspicious start to a war that seems likely to devolve into a very sticky situation.