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Sunday, April 01, 2007

OK Congress, Make Yourself Useful

It seems no one is happy with the bills passed by the House and Senate involving continued funding for the Iraq war. The votes have spawned arguments on both sides of the proverbial aisle:

-- Conservatives argue (correctly) that legislation that proscribes specific dates for changes in troop deployments along with funding interferes with the President's role as Commander in Chief.

-- Conservatives also argue (correctly) that if liberals REALLY want to stop the war, they should vote to do precisely that -- stop the war by withdrawing funding, which DOES lie within the Constitutional authority of Congress.

-- Conservatives finally argue (correctly) that the votes should not have required billions in pork-barrel spending to attract enough votes for passage. House and Senate members should have been willing to vote for / against the core issue on its own merits.

-- Liberals argue (correctly) the House and Senate votes DO matter, even if they lack the margins to override a threatened veto, because they clearly convey the changing sentiment of Americans who must be in support of any long-term war in order for it to "succeed" at whatever it was supposed to accomplish.

Arguments about this specific legislation and the larger issue of ending the war will continue until some other even larger, more menacing issue takes center stage. Sadly, that next issue may be days or weeks off, not months or years.

That's why, if Congress REALLY wants to make itself useful and accomplish something truly valuable for the long-term health of the United States, Congress needs to immediately vote to eliminate the War Powers Act in its entirety. I've written about this before (#1) but the following combination of events

* the disastrous results from the half-baked "authorization" of war in Iraq
* the ongoing saber rattling against Iran and the escalation between Iran and the West
* fundraising results showing Democrats collecting lots of gold bricks for the 2008 Presidential race

might constitute the perfect motivational circumstance to focus Congress on reclaiming its Constitutional "manhood" from the blind trust in which it put it when the War Powers Act was passed in 1973.

First, two key relevant documents:

The War Powers Act: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/warpower.htm
The United States Constitution : http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html

The War Powers act attempted to establish a process for controlling the escalation of "cold war" conflicts into "warmer" wars while still acknowledging the need in a nuclear world of the Commander in Chief to respond militarily to attacks on United States interests without waiting for formal debate and a declaration of war. In reality, passage of this law cemented the flawed concept of the President as Commander in Chief of a never-ending, too-secret-to-share-with-the-public state of war. That approach is completely out of sync with the intent of our Constitution which assigns the following functions to Congress:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

The Constitution also states:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Read the above clauses again, CAREFULLY. They unambiguously state that the President is the commander in chief of military / militia forces once called into the actual service of the United States. They unambiguously state that only Congress has the power to DEPLOY any military force against foreign or domestic threats.

Why is now the perfect time to eliminate the War Powers Act?

ONE -- The Iraq War started with the CLAIM of an imminent threat and an "authorization" by Congress for the President to address that imminent threat. Rather than launching a war against a specific enemy in a specific country with a clear idea of terms under which hostilities will cease, we are now stuck in a mode of searching for additional bogeymen to justify our presence while resisting attempts to withdraw troops under the pretence of emboldening a larger enemy who was not specifically identified in a valid declaration of war. The result? Over 150,000 troops stuck in a no-manhood-land of battling egos, billions of dollars squandered, and an American public which has lost interest.

TWO -- The battle of words with Iran and the seizure of British forces in the most sensitive shipping area of the world is HIGHLY likely to produce another half-baked, half-thought out engagement of American forces. Every press account of the action itself and recent demonstrations within Iran confirms the capture was specifically planned as a domestic Iranian political diversion on the part of the mullahs running the government. If President Ahmadinejad and the nutjobs pulling his string continue to interfere with shipping in international waters to distract their populace from glaring domestic problems within Iran, we will be justified in taking military action if American ships or ships of American allies are affected. However, there is no capability Iran possesses that justifies providing an American President carte blanche to initiate bombing of Iranian targets or covert actions against Iran without the express, prior approval of Congress in the form of a declaration of war. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2403 Americans and destroyed 11 ships and 188 planes but Franklin Roosevelt still sought a declaration of war against Japan. A declaration of war makes it clear to the enemy the American people are behind the hammer that will be coming its way, not politicians with months left in office.

THREE -- House and Senate members who might resist reverting to a more pure Constitution-based process to control the current White House occupant surely can see the value in doing so if one of those crazy front-running liberal candidates for President takes office in 2009. I'm in favor of this no matter WHO occupies the White House.


#1) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/05/sotu-alternatives-war-powers.html