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The Power to Threaten War

Author: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
April 18, 2014
Yale Law Journal Online


In September 2012, at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's prodding, American policymakers and commentators argued intensely about whether the President of the United States should draw a "red line" for Iranian leaders—a threshold of nuclear weapon development the crossing of which would trigger a U.S. military response. It is easy to imagine that the actual launching of military attacks against Iran would generate intense scrutiny and argument of constitutional issues, most notably whether the President could take such action without congressional authorization. Were military strikes to carry on for months, it is also easy to imagine significant legal discussion of whether the President could continue them, in light of the War Powers Resolution's sixty-day limit on military engagements without express congressional approval. Nobody seriously questioned, though, that as a constitutional matter, the President could unilaterally draw the red line threatening them.

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