The search for meaningful constraints on power is indeed the central challenge of our constitutional system. But Congress has an abysmal track record of successfully reining in presidential uses of force overseas. And there is little cause for hope it will succeed here. (...)
This is hardly to say the president’s decision to use force operates under no constraint at all. Using force is expensive, it is alienating, it is provocative, and it may create greater threats to the American people than it prevents. Presidents have to convince the American public that war is worth fighting. This has even been true when they respond to acts of terror in self-defense. When President Reagan ordered strikes against Libya following the bombing of the civilian airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, he made a speech from the Oval Office. (...)
Today, it is this lack of transparency—not Congress’ relative apathy—that has boosted executive power and threatened the legitimacy of current drone operations. If Congress wants to do something about this, it should start by beefing up its own oversight efforts.
[President Reagan did not order air strikes against Libya following the destruction of Pan Am 103 in December 1988. He ordered such strikes in April 1986 following the La Belle nightclub bombing in Berlin earlier that month. Those who maintain, against the weight of the evidence, that Libya was responsible for Lockerbie regard revenge for the 1986 Reagan air strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi as providing the motive.]