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.
at 6:38 PM