Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Strategy for the Inevitable

If you have nothing better to do, go read about the new National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

Let me know if you see anything in it that looks like a strategy, or resembles a coherent definition of "victory." If you can, you're doing a lot better than I am. Heck, you're doing better than just about any other political/military analyst on the planet.

Even if this document really were a "strategy for victory in Iraq," it would hardly be cause for praising the Pentagon or the White House. (Like, uh, they just now came up with one?)

This new "strategy" is a comprehensive and well-organized rehash of the same mantras, propaganda, and bunkum we've been hearing for the last few years. And like the war itself, the strategy is also a complete waste of tax dollars. Neither it, nor any of the other war talk coming out of Washington these days, is going to change the inevitable course of action.

Jack Murtha hit it on the head when he told Tim Russert that our troops would be mostly redeployed in time for the '06 elections. This will happen partly because of the political realities of election politics. But it will mainly happen because of the physical realities about the shape of our military, especially our land forces. The Iraq escapade has ground them into the dirt. If they stay deployed in numbers too much longer, they may never recover. Mister Bush won't be able to give the rich a tax cut big enough to be able to fix our broken Army and Marine Corps!


The so called "think tanks" are certain to make a fortune crafting wise sounding "lessons learned" from Iraq, and I fear that most of them will miss the most important points.

-- Wars of invasion and occupation are a bad idea.

-- Wars conducted to effect regime change are a bad idea.

-- "Preemptive deterrence" is a bad policy.

-- The Project for the New American Century and the rest of the folks who conspired to bring on this war are bad people.

Of course, the bad people who brought us into this war are the same ones who will draw up the lessons learned.

So at the end of the day, we may not have learned anything. At least not officially.


I hope, however, that Congress (yes, Congress, not the Department of Defense) takes a good hard look at the nature of our armed services. Iraq has clearly demonstrated the dangers of having an all-volunteer, professional, "best trained, best equipped" military. Having something like that handy to sic on whomever you decide to sic it on can be a dangerous thing--especially when you have civilian leaders who think nothing of using it to promote their political agendas.

However, comma, going back to a draft isn't such a great idea either. Universal conscription won't do any good. Heck, what would we do if every eighteen year old in the country had to go in the military? What would we do with them all? Universal conscription would amount to little more than a socialist "first jobs" program. How many more tax cuts would we need to finance that?

And a lottery style draft would be just as unfair and corrupt as it was during the Vietnam era. The Bush twins would serve as flight attendants with the Texas Air National Guard.


It's probably more important for Congress to repeal the War Powers Act of 1973 and draw up a new one--one that restricts a President from conducting an Iraq style invasion without a formal declaration of war from Congress.

Some argue against Congressional war declarations, asserting that a formal declaration gives a President virtual dictatorial powers. I disagree. If anyone can show me where the Constitution of the United States grants those kinds of powers to a president in times of "declared war," please speak up.

Yes, Presidents in the past have exceeded their constitutional authority in times of war. But they only did so because Congress and the courts let them get away with it.


  1. 9/11 changed everything, alright -- it opened the double-size overhead door to the loading dock, for all the thieves to start robbing the nation blind on a large-scale by-the-truckload basis.

  2. The only problem with drawing up a new War Powers act is that the Executive and Legislative share war powers, to a certain extent, and the Legislative doesn't have the Constitutional authority to simply do whatever it wants with respect to the Executive's war powers. In other words, the Legislative branch cannot legislate away Constitutional powers held by another branch.

  3. The power of the purse would be enough, witness the Vietnam War, if the will existed in Congress. Of course, when I look at who profits from these wars and how much they contribute to Congressional campaigns, I don't think that's likely to happen.

  4. Jeff and SJ,

    To me it all goes back to the "unwarranted influence" of the military industrial complex. I've written on it in the past, and no doubt will do so again.


    I'm pretty sure article II gives makes the President "commander in chief of the army and navy" and authorizes him to commission officers.

    And that's it. The opinions of John Yoo and other lawyers aside, the rest of the powers go to Congress.

  5. Jeff Huber:

    You're pretty much right about that. Once War is declared, the President has the power to direct the war in a manner he sees fit. That was the intent of the Framers, at any rate. They didn't want the President to be like the King of Britain, with power to declare war, raising armies, and conduct war. Lincoln warned that the Constitution does not allow the President to "make war at his pleasure."

    But as you know, we live in a society of laws founded on precedent. For example, the Constitution doesn't say there is a right to privacy. The Courts have found since at least the 60s that there is one, and so we have it (and quite correctly, in my view).

    The Constitution doesn't say the Supreme Court gets to make the final decision on the Constitutionality of laws passed by the Legislature (Congress), or the acts of the Executive. But in the early 1800s the Supreme Court decided under Justice Marshall that they did in fact that that authority, and they've had it ever since.

    Since at least the Korean war, it has been "decided," (by practice if not explicitly) that the President has the power to send our military into battle without a Declaration of War from the Congress. Once in battle, the Constitution is pretty clear that the President acts as Commander-in-Chief, and therefore directs the fighting.

    One thing about this type of precedent setting, the longer nothing is done about it the harder it is to do. Right after Marshall and the Supreme Court decided that the Court had the final say over the Constitutionality of laws and such, the executive and legislative branch could have told Marshall to go jump in a lake, and simply ignored any Court decrees on Constitutionality they didn't like (Marshall was ingenious, though, in that he ruled in favor of his political enemies in the case (it was Marbury v. Madison) while at the same time taking the power he wanted for the Court - but that's another story). Now, all these years later, imagine if Congress told the Supreme Court to go jump in a lake, and that they were going to pass, and the executive enforce, any laws they felt like regardless of what the Court said about it. There would be an uproar. People have come to accept that the Supreme Court has the power it says it has.

    Likewise, the longer Presidents are able to send the military into battle without an express Declaration of War from Congress, the more firmly entrenched that executive power becomes. The executive has had the power, in practical effect, for at least half a century at this point. The longer they keep arguing that they have this Constitutional authority, and the longer they keep exercising it, the harder it is to wrest it away from them. That's a reality of our system.

    So while you are right about how the system was intended to function, from a practical standpoint, there is a difficult when one coordinate branch of government tries to exercise control over the other, particularly if that exercise of control goes against 50 years of practice. It's a gamble for both sides. Suppose, for example, Congress passes a new War Powers act as you suggest, and then suppose the executive branch tells them to get bent because they're going to do what they've been doing for 50 years no matter what Congress thinks. Congress potentially loses power in the balance between the branches (and, of course, if it ultimately goes against the executive, then the executive loses power). This is one reason the three branches rarely go to the wall in terms of trying to enforce their powers over another branch. A lot at stake.

    Sorry for the long-winded post.

  6. Scott, I think you hit the counter-arguement spot on.

    Not sure I agree on this:

    "The Constitution doesn't say the Supreme Court gets to make the final decision on the Constitutionality of laws passed by the Legislature (Congress), or the acts of the Executive."

    Seems to me that Article III covers that with this:

    The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority...

    And I don't have time to look up Marshall's arguments right now, but I seem to remember that's what he based them on.

    Get back to you on that when I have a chance.


  7. Jeff:

    Trying to get to Marshall's argument based on that text of Article III gets you into a circular argument. It says the judicial power extends to laws arising under the Constitution, but it doesn't say the Supreme Court gets to decide whether a law implicates a Constitutional issue. Also, if you read further into Article III, Congress is given the authority to regulate the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Imagine if they actually exercised that! Congress saying, Supreme Court, you can no longer hear appeals on emminent domain cases, for example (or abortion).

    Here's what Jefferson said about the Constitution and the Marbury v. Madison decision after it came out"

    "# "The question whether the judges are invested with exclusive authority to decide on the constitutionality of a law has been heretofore a subject of consideration with me in the exercise of official duties. Certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which has given that power to them more than to the Executive or Legislative branches."

    —Thomas Jefferson to W. H. Torrance, 1815. ME 14:303 "

    In fact, after Marbury was decided, the Supreme Court didn't declare a law unconstitutional for a very long time, because they knew it was by no means settled that they had the power. They let things sit for a while, let the precedent go unchallenged for a number of decades.