Has Congress ever NOT approved a presidential call to war?

Threads in GD and IMHO re: Iran’s nuclear program and what, if anything, the US will do about it, have engendered a number of responses along the lines of, “the president [whoever he may be next term] will never be able to convince Congress that we need to invade Iran–after Iraq, we don’t have the troops, resources, or stomach for it.”

But this made me think of the following scenario: President X gives the 2006 State of the Union address before Congress and asks that, considering Iran’s defiance of IAEA inspectors, growing evidence of the non-peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s history as a rogue state with ties to extremists and terrorists, Congress authorize the use of military force to neutralize the threat of Iranian WMDs.

House and Senate each debate, vote “No” in each case. President X hangs his head and says, “well, OK, nevermind, then.”

I just find Congress’s refusal highly unlikely in such a situation, and it made me wonder if it had ever happened in the past. Has a US preseident ever asked Congress for the power to wage war and been denied?

I don’t know if Nicaragua counts as that wasn’t total war but congress ended funding to support the contras. The US government just supported them anyway.

Declaring war and giving the president power to use military force are legally two different things.

The U.S. has not declared war on another country since WWII.

This has huge consequences. E.g., it’s this lack of a declared war that led to the ongoing controversies over whether people we capture are subject to the Geneva Convention protections or not.

Either way, I believe the answer to your question is no. But the commander-in-chief can use the military in a great many ways in situations in which war has not been declared, with Congressional approval an afterthought.

In addition, the president is almost certainly going to “test the waters” outside of formal communication channels, to see if the support for his proposal is there. Only the most clueless president wouldn’t take a hint if the chairman of his political party stopped by for a “chat” and said BAD IDEA.

Really? The U.S. did not declare war on Iraq? I am shocked! What is it then? A peace keeping mission?

As noted in the OP, Congress authorized the use of force. It did not declare war.

See this Wikipedia article.

You are right on the first part, wrong on the second. There is no relation whatsoever to a declared war or undeclared war to the Geneva Conventions. Geneva, along with virtually every other law of war, is invoked when a state of war exists, which means that countries are shooting at each other.

This is a controversial issue, but broadly speaking, uniformed soldiers or irregular militias, civilian noncombatants, and even mercinaries are entitled to various protections by the Geneva Conventions. Spies are not afforded protection, and the whole terrorism issue is a great big grey area.

Back to the OP, I’m a watcher of these things, and I know of no war resolution that has been rejected by Congress. If a military operation might be controversial, Presidents just go ahead and do it without the authorization of Congress, and then claim that it is within the powers of the Commander in Chief (the President) to do whatever. Think Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, and even the intervention in the Boxer Revolution in China a century ago.

If there is no relation whatsoever, then why are there controversies?

As long as this is GQ, let me just say that not everybody in the administration agrees that there is no relation whatsoever. That’s why the issue has been raised so frequently and in so many circumstances.

Hm. Maybe the rest of the world should hoist our boys on Bush’s petard: "Since your Congress never declared war, you’re all NON-LAWFUL COMBATANTS! No Geneva protections for you! :wally "

The non-lawful combatant “controversy” has jack to do with us not declaring war. If it did, that would be too easy. We could just be a rogue state, never declare war, & kill all with impunity. (Oh, wait, maybe the USA already does that? :eek: )
The administration is mostly looking for an excuse not to have to put people seized overseas into American courts. They want the whole thing under executive-branch control, which is paranoid control-freak thinking crossed with distrust of the supposedly soft-on-crime courts. It’s also, Geneva convention Schmeneva Schmunvention, against the US Constitution. The judicial branch is responsible for judicating, & it’s separate from the executive. The Bush admin is just dead wrong here.

And, yes, that is a GQ answer.

No President has ever asked Congress for a formal declaration of war and been turned down.

Beyond that, you’re going to get bogged down in definitional problems. For example, in 1917 the Wilson administration asked Congress for authority to arm merchant ships to defend American commerce against Germany, with whom we were not yet at war. The measure was filibustered to death in the Senate. Does this count?

In 1973, Congress forced the Nixon administration to stop bombing Cambodia by forbidding appropriations from being used for that purpose. The Nixon administration hadn’t formally asked for such authority, but they were bombing anyway, and wanted to continue, and only stopped when the cutoff took effect. Does that count?

Certainly, such defeats are the exception rather than the rule. I can’t think of any case where a president asked for specific authority to commit ground troops to a particular country and was turned down, but there haven’t been all that many cases where presidents have asked.

I believe the closest declaration of war vote in the Senate was for the Spanish American war in 1898, and President McKinley had tried to avoid it.

McKinley asked Congress for military authorization in Cuba, thinking it might deflate the war buffs. He got the authorization within a day or two and almsot as quickly, Spain made it known they took the resolution as an act of war. So Congress passed a separate one a few days late. The Senate vote was 42-35.

That’s a pretty good one. Though I think presidents acting without approval and then being called on it to stop is something else.