Karen J. Greenberg
October 22, 2012

Traditionally, war powers have resided with Congress — or so the Constitutional story goes. It’s been a long time, of course, since that’s been a reality, but over the last few decades American wars have become ever more purely and starkly presidential in nature. Last year, in a situation of open armed intervention in Libya, President Obama declined to seriously discuss the matter with Congress, or even abide by the more recent War Powers Resolution of 1973. And that was for our most recent “overt” war. The “covert” ones (which, by the way, in a new definition of that term, are regularly in the news and amount to bragging points in an election year) are now purely presidential — from the ongoing full-scale drone war in Pakistan to more minor versions of the same in Yemen and Somalia. The president even picks the individual targets of the attacks himself. The same was true of the Special Operations Forces raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden. War in all its aspects is increasingly the president’s private domain, not a matter for either Congress, or certainly the American people.

In recent years, in one of the more dangerous, if largely undiscussed, developments of our time, the Bush and then Obama administrations have launched the first state-planned war in cyber space (in conjunction with the Israelis), until recently utterly secret and purely by presidential fiat. The target: Iran, its nuclear program, and banks outside that country that may be helping the Iranians launder their money. First, there were the “Olympic Games,” then the Stuxnet virus, then Flame, and now it turns out that other sophisticated malware programs have evidently followed. This “war” was launched not just preemptively, but essentially on the basis of Dick Cheney’s infamous 1% doctrine (even a 1% chance of an attack on the United States, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with as if it were a certainty). Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry.

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