Defending Rights & Dissent Raises Troubling Issues with William Barr’s Views on War Powers

three women hold up Black Lives Matter signs
The “Black Identity Extremism” Narrative is Spreading
January 10, 2019
Groups to Tech Companies: Don’t Sell Face Surveillance Tech to Government
January 15, 2019

There are a number for reasons to oppose Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General William Barr. He remains an unrepentant drug warrior at a time when many across the political spectrum are committed to undoing the horrors of mass incarceration. He also played a pivotal role in the Iran-Contra pardons and has an expansive view of executive power.

One particularly troubling aspect of Barr’s views that have flown under the radar is his disturbing views about presidential war powers. On three separate occasions–Panama, Iraq, and Somalia–Barr advised then-President George H.W. Bush that he could use military force without congressional approval.

Defending Rights & Dissent were joined by our allies Just Foreign Policy, Demand Progress, CodePink, Government Accountability Project,, and Campaign for Liberty in sending a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining these concerns.

As the letter explains, Barr’s views on the first Gulf War are particularly troubling. After George H.W. Bush sent half a million US soldiers to Saudi Arabia, there was significant national debate about whether Bush would need Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Many within the Bush administration believed a resolution to authorize military force would fail in Congress and thus Bush should attack without seeking one.

Barr, then Deputy Attorney General, was a leading advocate for the view that Bush could launch a large scale, military offensive against Iraq without Congressional approval. While Barr claimed an inherent Article II authority made such a move legal, he also developed a backup “bootstrap” theory. This theory cynically exploited concerns about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons to justify a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Ultimately, Barr advised Bush to seek a Congressional resolution, but he stated that such a resolution would not be law.

Congress has become increasingly concerned with the President’s blank check for war. There have been efforts to repeal the overly abused post-9/11 AUMF. And the Senate recently involved the War Powers Act as an attempt to end illegal US war in Yemen. As this was in spite of Pentagon claims that Congress lacked the legal authority to do so, it seems likely that the President and Congress may soon butt heads over war powers. This makes Barr’s views on war powers especially pertinent.