Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Can't Get Enough of Them War Powers

I was heartened last February when the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Pubic Affairs announced the formation of the National War Powers Commission, and I was ecstatic to hear the commission would be headed by foreign policy heavyweights James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher. The results of the Commission's intensive studies have just hit the street, and I couldn't be more disenchanted.

The Commission proposes a new and improved War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 to replace the old broken down War Powers Resolution of 1973. Lamentably, when you read the old and new titles, you've seen all the substantial difference there is between the proposed Act and the standing Resolution.

Happy to Glad

The Commission might have created something worth considering if it had given itself an objective worth pursuing. According to former Secretary of State Baker, the aim of the proposed statute is "to create a process that will encourage the [executive and legislative] branches to cooperate and consult" on decisions to take the country to war. What we needed was a way for Congress to keep maniacal ideologues in control of the Oval Office from driving America off a cliff the way it did with Iraq and threatens to do with Iran. What Baker, Christopher and their Commission offer doesn't contain any speed bumps that don't already exist in the old War Powers Resolution.

In their July 8 New York Times editorial, Baker and Christopher assert that we need "a new law that would, except for emergencies, require the president and Congressional leaders to discuss the matter before going to war."

The president and Congress discussed going to war with Iraq for months before we invaded it, both publicly and behind closed doors. Baker and Christopher complain that the 1973 Resolution "has been regularly ignored." It was strictly adhered to for Iraq. The Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002 constituted "specific statutory authorization consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution."

The proposed Act would require a president to consult with Congress before ordering a "significant armed conflict" unless "the need for secrecy or other emergent circumstances" preclude such consultation. The existing Resolution requires that "The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities." All the shysters in George W. Bush's Justice Department combined couldn't come up with a compelling argument that there's a gnat's fingernail's worth of difference between those two requirements.

Christopher says the Act is superior to the Resolution because the Act has "defined the kinds of armed conflict that would be covered by the statute." The Act defines a "significant armed conflict" as "any conflict expressly authorized by Congress" or "any combat operation by U.S. armed forces lasting more than a week," or expected to last more than a week. That narrows things down, huh?

More significantly, the Act specifically denotes actions that are not to be considered "significant armed conflict" and would hence fall outside the control of Congress. Among these other-than-significant operations are "actions taken by the President to repel attacks, or to prevent imminent attacks, on the United States, its territorial possessions, its embassies, its consulates, or its armed forces abroad" and "acts of reprisal against terrorists or states that sponsor terrorism" and "investigations or acts to prevent criminal activity abroad" and "covert operations."

Holy Caligula! There has never been, nor will there ever be, a totalitarian despot on earth who wouldn't give his left baby maker for that kind of statutory authority to make war. I don't know what Baker and Christopher and the rest of the geriatrics on the War Powers Commission were thinking when they drafted their Consultation Act, but if passed by Congress, their proposal would transform our erstwhile republic into a perpetual form of the militaristic oligarchy it has become under the stewardship of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

We don't need a new war powers law that Congress can brag about passing on the Sunday morning vagina dialogues but which does nothing to stuff the executive branch back in its box. What we need is the kind of legislation that would allow stem cell researchers to discover a way for Congress to grow itself enough spine to enforce the limits on executive overreach that already exist.

Under order of young Mr. Bush, United States armed forces have been conducting overt offensive combat operations in Pakistan and Somalia for well over a year, without so much as a yes-you-may from Congress, and in flagrant violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Yet no one in Congress is saying boo about it, including tough guy Senator James "born to fight" Webb of Virginia.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. Anonymous9:29 AM

    Seems the chemical warfare folks had success with the cocktail that makes folks imitate Herr Decider.
    I can't think of any other reason why they've all started goosestepping.
    Looks like business as usual.

  2. It does, Jeg. I can't quite believe they came up with something so blatantly in favor of absolute executive power. Dementia?

  3. Halves-heimers -- Maybe, Commander.

    Sounds like James Baker III, (probably at the behest of Poppy) is still trying to do what he can to save Junior's a**, and legacy.

    Only reason I can think of that these two guys would even think of trying to make any kind of policy. I mean -- neither one has had a "job" in government, in years.

    I agree about growing the backbone thing where Congress is concerned.

    I stood all I could of the "debate" on the FISA thing. (A) I don't know why it's even being talked about. Harry Reid could have let it languish, until at least after the election, and the status quo would have been maintained. The telecoms, and NSA would keep doing what they have been doing. Immunity notwithstanding. I had to turn off the tv, after Jay Rockefeller told me, via C-Span, that to expect the telecoms to know they were in violation of the constitution "Just wasn't fair."

    Yep. Right. Why should those high priced corporate lawyers bother to read the laws, they are asked to violate?

    Meanwhile Jim Baker, and Warren Christopher will get a lot of favorable press, for this latest "brilliant new idea".

    GWB didn't care much for the report of their "Iraq Study Group" so he ignored it. Wonder what he will think about "retroactive immunity" with a new and improved "war powers act?"

    Seems to be going around.

  4. I can't wait to light into whoever calls this nincompoopoo "brilliant."


  5. wkmaier3:06 PM


    There is only one way to rein in the out-of-control Executive: impeachment. (though my preference would be a War Crimes trial)

  6. Anonymous3:58 PM

    watchman said... now that the U S S Abe lincoln is moving out of the bathtub, does that mean that the U.S. Govt. is reading your blog?

  7. WK,

    I'm all for it, as long as they take Cheney out too.


    The govt. has been by the blog to visit many times.

  8. War Powers, whether by statute or by Constitution, is all screwed up because the balance of power in all things military is grossly biased toward the Executive Branch. The all-mighty dollar just isn't enough in the hands of the Legislative Branch to cause the Executive Branch to alter course one iota. No War Powers Act, past, present, or future is going to make a dent in this problem until: 1) representatives have the power to directly override the Commander in Chief upon good cause; 2) the appointment of flag-rank officers in all branches is largely de-coupled from the Executive Branch (so that their loyalty is not practically vested solely in the President, and so some 'semblance of appointment for merit re-enters the picture; and 3) the Joint Chiefs and insanely byzantine parallel chains of command must go and be replace by a General Staff system with a deterministic chain-of-command.

    Left with just the purse, the Legislative Branch assumes all the political risks of cutting off funding for an ongoing military operation, and the Executive Branch is almost in a no-lose proposition. Ultimately, something short of impeachment is necessary so that, on good cause shown, the Legislative branch can seize the military wheel and steer us back on course.

    This is a much large undertaking than a mere re-write of the War Powers Act. The balance of power must be redressed if needless adventurism by the Executive is to be curbed.

  9. John,

    Excellent ideas. The one I think could be most easily implemented, and possibly the most immediately effective of your suggestions, is the shift from our JCS structure to a General Staff system.

    Nice thinking!


  10. wkmaier8:23 AM


    Don't know if you saw Tim Noah's piece at Slate, saying Congress doesn't WANT War Powers.


    Kevin Drum is of the opinion that if Congress could get away with it, they would never vote on anything!

  11. WK,

    He makes an excellent point, one I agree with wholeheartedly; hence my continual reminder about Somalia and Pakistan.

    Thanks for the link.


  12. The Constitution is unequivical. Only Congress can Declare War. The decades of Abdicating Congressional Responsibilty has cost Millions of lives, Maimed Millions more and wasted Trillions from Our National Treasure.

    We the People deserve an Up or Down vote on a question of War.

    Warren Christopher and Bloody Baker are High up on the rung of the Racketeers. To hope for anything positive for We the People from such men is folly.

  13. Consultation Act? Everything's consultants nowadays. Baker and Christopher are consultants. Consultants have no loyalty. Congress acts like consultants.

  14. And I wonder how much Baker and Warren ran up in consulting fees on this bogus project.


  15. wkmaier3:42 PM

    And who paid them??

  16. I was just wondering that same thing. Bet you a shiny new penny the money came from a govt. grant, i.e., you and I paid for them to come up with that crap.

  17. wkmaier7:33 PM

    Not taking that bet unless you give me HUGE odds! I need that penny to buy food! ;-)

  18. wkmaier11:06 AM


    COL Pat has an interesting post up about the Iranian missile launch. By now, we all know about the doctored photo that does not show one missile failing to launch. But COL Pat was wondering if those were actually anti-aircraft missiles (ground to air), rather than ballistic missles, based on their launch trajectory.


  19. Interesting. Have a link?


  20. Congress consulted. Trashed the Fourth Amendment. Confirmed Petreus and Kojak. All in the space of two days.

    Where's my American Flag Lapel Pin?

    Commander, whatever the Iranians have in the way of missiles. How good are the chances we sold them to them, directly, or to somebody who did. (Since nobody pays any attention to the sanctions anyway.)

  21. wkmaier12:11 PM


    See if that's the one.

  22. EL,

    I'm pretty sure we didn't sell them the Shababs.

    But, WK, I don't see any way the pics a the top of that page can be ballistic missiles. That's how a SAM takes off.

  23. wkmaier1:58 PM

    That's what COL Pat was saying. I read some of the comments too which seemed to indicate the same thing.

    It's getting so you can't even trust the Iranians!

  24. WK,

    It's hard to say what those pictures mean. I suspect Iran tested both kinds of missiles this time around. And the last time around. And the time before that.


  25. Lets shed some light on the Shahab-3 [Meteor-3]. A link to a good image on it's transporter are here. It's basically a slightly improved SCUD-C and based on a North Korean design. Interestingly, the FAS reports 1280km--not miles--which would put it out of range of Israel. Looks like the mainstream press needs lessons on the difference between a kilometer and a mile. Semi-professionally, this range figure looks good to me for the design because it's basically the same as the SCUD-C and SCUD-D.

    Just like the SCUDs, it has a horrific fuel mixture. The propellant is a mixture of gasoline and kerosene (the worst of both worlds). The oxidizer is a wonderfully "stable" combination of fuming Nitric Acid and Nitrous Oxide. One of the joys of such fuel is that the oxidizer tank must be lined with paraffin wax. If the system gets too hot and the paraffin starts to melt or shift, the reaction could be--say--"energetic."

    To top it all off, the ignition sequence starts with a solid fuel rocket spinning the propellant and oxidizer turbines up to speed before primary ignition. I wouldn't want anything to overheat or explode in those first few seconds--like solid fuel motors have a habit of doing.

    The mainstream photos make this thing look sleek and elusive--it ain't! This is a humongous SCUD you can launch from a nice, prepared concrete pad or a highway. Even in the best of circumstances, this thing would be an iffy proposition to move cross-country and even iffier to launch without a thorough inspection first if you did take it off-road.

    That being said, it has the beginning of an inertial guidance system, and it would be perfectly capable of blowing a four city block-sized crater through the keel of a stationary Nimitz-class carrier.

  26. Great report, John. The only thing I can add is that ballistic missiles have extremely limited maritime applications, regardless of their guidance systems. Any ship is a moving target, and even if one knows the location of the target at missile launch, and even if the target moves very little as the missile approaches, the missile has no terminal homing system, so it's just heading for a point in the sea. The odds of actually hitting a ship are quite slim.

  27. I should have made it more obvious that my closing comment was "tongue in cheek." The original purpose of the SCUD system was to destroy airfields and Corps and Theater Main Command Posts. Moving anything was definitely not in the plans. Of course, Soviet SCUDs all had 250kt to 300kt devices, leaving plenty of margin of error for these targets. Even the one metric ton conventional warhead on these systems will make a big hole--especially if the VT fuse is disabled.

    It should be noted that maximum range is achieved by disabling the guidance and flying the weapon ballistic. In that mode, you'd be lucky to hit the country your aiming at.

  28. John,

    Thanks for the additional info, especially the max range "limitation."


  29. Very illuminating and useful, John. Thanks, too, from a reader.

  30. wkmaier1:25 PM

    John and Jeff,

    Great info, much appreciated.

  31. Anonymous7:10 PM

    "Young Mr. Bush has managed to irretrievably lose his Iraq misadventure..."

    But...but...Michael Yon says we won! And Michael O'Hanlon says we're turning the corner!

    And those guys would never lie, now, would they?

  32. Mission Accomplished Again!

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