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In light of the events unfolding between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran, I have been curious as to the prospect of war between the two countries.

From what I have researched, in order for the President of the US to order an act of war against a country, they would need approval from Congress.

For the United States, Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says "Congress shall have power to ... declare War." However, that passage provides no specific format for what form legislation must have in order to be considered a "declaration of war" nor does the Constitution itself use this term.

Wikipedia Article on Declaration of war by the United States

However, in the event that Iran declares war on the United States, does the President need to seek approval from Congress in order to order the Military into committing acts of war?

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From what I have researched, in order for the President of the US to order an act of war against a country, they would need approval from Congress.

It's very murky in practice. Between precedent (particularly since 1945), the War Powers Resolution, as well as the Patriot Act and the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists after 9/11, POTUS is more or less able to spin whatever he wants as war against terror and get away with engaging in military action against whoever without formally declaring war. (The main limit on this power basically is the military budget, which is controlled by Congress.)

However, in the event that Iran declares war on the United States, does the President need to seek approval from Congress in order to order the Military into committing acts of war?

No. If a country declares war on you, then you are at war whether you want it or not - period.

That being said, be mindful that Iran shows no signs of wanting to (formally, anyway) declare war on the US. By contrast, the current administration seems dead set on engaging in hostile acts and rhetoric that could very well trigger hostile reactions (such as, say, shooting down a drone that's flying over or near its territorial waters) that the US administration could then try to spin as a casus belli.

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    When you say "the current administration seems dead set on engaging in hostile acts and rhetoric", do you mean the US administration, or the Iranian? After all, the Iranian government has been engaging in hostile acts & rhetoric against the US for around 40 years now. – jamesqf Jun 22 at 16:09
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    @jamesqf: I meant the US administration, which has been doing everything it can to count Iran amongst its puppet states (successfully for a while, not so much in recent decades) since the end of WW2 -- i.e. almost 75 years as I write this. And just for clarity, this is by no means an endorsement of what they're doing. Just pointing out that there are two sides in the hostile relationship and that the original hostilities stem from [the UK and] the US (due to oil interests) rather than Iran. – Denis de Bernardy Jun 22 at 16:22
  • The history of US-Iranian relations prior to the Islamic revolution was one of assisting a country whose government, while far from perfect, had at least some notion of basic human rights. The Iranian government created that relationship (beginning with holding US embassy personnel hostage, against all international norms), and has maintained it, even though the US would have been willing to end the hostilities at any time, if the Iranians had changed their behavior. – jamesqf Jun 23 at 18:52
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    @jamesqf: The history of US Iran relationships prior to that was a tacit agreement during WW2 that Saudi Arabia would be US zone of influence, and that Iran would be UK zone of influence. The two schemed together and went on to support a coup in 1953 to put a puppet state in power in Iran, with the UK slowly throwing the towel entirely in subsequent decades, leaving the US the only game in town. The US has been hostile with Iran from the get go as it sought to bully its way into Iran's oil fields, and the Islamic Revolution was a reaction to rather than the cause of US hostilities. – Denis de Bernardy Jun 23 at 19:17
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The relevant law is the War Powers Resolution:

The War Powers Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a Congressional authorization for use of military force (AUMF) or a declaration of war by the United States.

Prior to that, presidents, as commanders in chief of the armed forces, could simply order up an act of war. They could not (and still can't) declare war, but a declaration of war is not actually needed (although it may have diplomatic effects). Neither the Korean War nor the Vietnam War was ever authorized by Congress.

Anyway, the president can order up an act of war, particularly in response to something the administration characterizes as an act of war, without congressional approval. The president has to notify Congress within 48 hours and without a further authorization may only send in military forces for 60 days. The president may need to declare a state of emergency to justify that, but states of emergency are within the president's powers (although Congress can block them with legislation and a veto proof majority).

  • Given how fast the initial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were, he might not need 60 days to overthrow the government of Iran - he just wouldn't be able to stick around and clean things up afterwards. – nick012000 Jun 22 at 13:00

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