Tomorrow is an ignominious anniversary. On that date in 1961, about 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles launched a secret invasion of Cuba in an effort to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime. After landing on the island’s southern coast at the Bay of Pigs, the invading guerrillas were routed by government forces. The humiliating disaster gave rise to a rare, publicly available Justice Department analysis of presidential power to wage covert war.
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On this date in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a congressional joint resolution authorizing military force to protect Formosa, as Taiwan was then called by the U.S. government, and surrounding islands. It’s one of the most interesting force authorizations in American history: It reflected Eisenhower’s complicated ambivalence toward constitutional powers, it was open-ended, it contemplated the possible use of nuclear weapons, and it was never actually invoked.
Few people today have ever heard of the Ludlow Amendment—a radical proposal that would have required a popular referendum before Congress could declare war and which lost a critical House vote on this date in 1938. The proposal was the closest the United States ever came to formally amending the Constitution’s allocation of war powers, and it would have revised them in exactly the opposite direction in which their interpretation has evolved in practice since the amendment’s defeat.
In the spring of 2001, Bill Barr, the former attorney general under George H.W. Bush who has now been tapped to resume that role under Donald Trump, sat for an oral history interview sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
As President Trump goes into this week’s NATO summit complaining about burden-sharing, amid inflamed anxieties at home about presidential powers over foreign relations, it is worth remembering the “Great Debate” of the early 1950s. That dispute pitted President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson against congressional NATO skeptics, and it concerned whether the president could unilaterally deploy four additional U.S. Army divisions to Western Europe.
The White House has released the following text of a letter sent to the speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate to serve as notice of military engagement in Syria on April 13, consistent with Section 4(1) of the War Powers Resolution.
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
On Friday night, the United States, United Kingdom, and France launched a coordinated attack in Syria, reportedly aimed at sites related to Syria’s chemical weapons program.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. on "Using Force: Strategic, Political, and Legal Considerations." The committee will hear testimony from the following witnesses:
Early Sunday evening, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 that had just completed a bombing run targeting US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Raqqa region. The episode raises important questions under the U.N. Charter (see Adil Ahmad Haque’s analysis here). But what about U.S. domestic law?
A White House’s responsibility to explain the legal basis for military actions such as the Syria missile strikes is dangerously undefined. This is not a problem unique to the Trump Administration. Nor do the differences between administrations in the choice, the structure, or timing of transparency fall out exclusively among party lines. What has emerged is a transparency regime shaped largely by broad discretion and perceived political necessity.