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Old 10-25-2005, 07:41 PM   #1
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Cindy Shehan and I agree on something!

The Congress must be held accountable as well as the President. This article pretty much sums it up, better than Cindy and I could sum it up.

[Q]Foreign Affairs

Declare War

It's time to stop slipping into armed conflict
by Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter


Most wars are unpredictable messes. Their zigs and zags, we are reminded by the Pentagon epistemologist Donald Rumsfeld, are determined by an unstable alchemy of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. No nation can plan a war perfectly. Yet in Iraq even the most credulous of Washington insiders had to know before our 2003 invasion that key White House assertions—we could pay for the war out of Iraqi oil revenues; we could secure that vast and raucous country with a little over 100,000 troops—flatly contradicted what almost all civilian and military experts were saying publicly and privately. Much that has gone wrong in Iraq could have been foreseen—and was.

But Iraq is only the latest in a long line of ill-considered and ill-planned American military adventures. Time and again in recent decades the United States has made military commitments after little real debate, with hazy goals and no appetite for the inevitable setbacks. Bill Clinton, having inherited a mission in Somalia to feed the starving, ended up hunting tribal leaders and trying to nation-build. Ronald Reagan dispatched the Marines to Lebanon saying stability there was a "vital interest," only to yank them out sixteen months later, soon after a deadly terrorist attack on the Marine barracks. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson settled us slowly into a war intended to prevent another "domino" from falling to communism, but in a manner that tore the nation apart and ultimately led to defeat. Too often our leaders have entered wars with unclear and unfixed aims, tossing away American lives, power, and credibility before figuring out what they were doing and what could be done.

Our Framers could not have foreseen the present age of nuclear missiles and cataclysmic terrorism. But they understood political accountability, and—as their deliberations in Philadelphia attest—they knew that sending Americans into battle demanded careful reflection and vigorous debate. So they created a simple means of ensuring that debate: in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution they gave Congress the power to declare war.

Declarations of war may seem to be relics of a bygone era—a time more deeply steeped in ritual, when ambassadors in frock coats delivered sealed communiqués to foreign courts. Yet a declaration of war has a great deal to recommend it today: it forces a deliberate, public conversation about the reasons for going to war, the costs, the risks, the likely gains, the strategies for achieving them—all followed by a formal vote.

Debates over war powers are nothing new. A recent book by the University of California at San Diego political scientist Peter Irons, War Powers, concludes that although the president has steadily accumulated de facto war powers, the Framers clearly—and correctly—intended to locate those powers in Congress. A report issued this year by the Constitution Project, a group of eminent academics and policymakers assembled by Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, sounds the same note. For these experts and countless other lawyers and constitutional scholars, the solution is for Congress to step up and reassume primary responsibility for sending the nation to war.

The problem is that Congress wants power without responsibility. Most legislators fear the political costs of bucking the commander in chief when the nation appears under threat. Others worry that the president's control of vital intelligence places him in a far better position to judge the need for war. The obvious answer is to demand that the information be shared, but here the president can claim that a debate risks spilling secrets to the enemy.

As a result, Congress has often preferred form over substance. Early in the history of the Republic, when President James Madison asked for a declaration of war against Algiers to stop the Barbary pirates, Congress declined, but authorized him to use "such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite." Over time such authorizations have become fast tracks to war. Congress votes up or down on the president's often vague military proposals, without accepting responsibility for judging the objectives of the war and the plans for waging it.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, Congress tried to fix this problem by passing the War Powers Act, which states that troops sent into combat by the president must be withdrawn within sixty days unless Congress specifically approves an extension of combat. Trouble began immediately. Richard Nixon vetoed the act; when Congress overrode the veto, he simply reaffirmed his right to go ahead with war regardless of what Congress said. But Nixon's concerns were unwarranted: the War Powers Act was much more a symbolic assertion of congressional power than an actual constraint on the executive. It is naive to believe that any Congress would vote to pull back troops just sixty days after they'd been deployed.

The War Powers Act was a halfhearted effort to counter presidential unilateralism. The Framers imagined a more solemn act—a formal congressional process and declaration that would be far more difficult for the president to ignore. We propose a new law that would restore the Framers' intent by requiring a congressional declaration of war in advance of any commitment of troops that promises sustained combat. The president would be required to present to Congress an analysis of the threat, specific war aims, the rationale for those aims, the feasibility of achieving them, a general sense of war strategy, plans for action, and potential costs. For its part, Congress would hold hearings of officials and nongovernmental experts, examine evidence of the threat, assess the objectives, and explore the drawbacks of the administration's proposal. A full floor debate and vote would follow.

In the case of a sudden attack on the United States or on Americans abroad, the president would retain his power to repel that attack and to strike back without a congressional declaration. But any sustained operation would trigger the declaration process. In other words, the president could send troops into Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban in response to 9/11. But if he planned to keep troops there to unseat the government and transform the country, he would need a congressional declaration. (Without one, funding for troops in the field would be cut off automatically.)

This process would put considerable pressure on the president to develop his case with far greater care than has been the norm over the past fifty years. And by normally requiring legislators to act before troops are in the field, it would also help save them from a natural propensity to duck their constitutional duty. [/Q]

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Old 10-26-2005, 03:20 AM   #2
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Well, I'm all for representatives being held accountable for how they voted on the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq." But my guess (based on their argument) is that these authors are not so much troubled that many representatives who voted yay are now vocal critics of the Administration over Iraq, as they are by the fact that these representatives delegated their authority to declare war to the Administration in the first place. *And* by the the steady increase of Presidential power in this area (at Congress' expense) from Vietnam onward, which sends a highly contradictory message to Congress about just what their obligations are. Why take the responsibility to make an informed decision seriously, if the President can choose to ignore it?

Unfortunately Article 1, Section 8 is not very forthcoming about what exactly the Congressional procedures for deliberating a declaration of war ought to consist of. The suggestions in the article sound good, but considering the authors' own characterization of the War Powers Act as a weak symbolic gesture, I wonder why they think these suggestions would be any more likely to be faithfully executed when push comes to shove.
Congress would hold hearings of officials and nongovernmental experts, examine evidence of the threat, assess the objectives, and explore the drawbacks of the administration's proposal.
In order to really have teeth, this one would require some significant changes to Congressional procedures that would likely be resisted tooth and nail. e.g., the minority party in Congress has no power to issue subpoenas for documents, to schedule Congressional hearings, or to compel testimony. Only the majority party can do these things, and they may well choose to do them half-heartedly if the President is in their camp.
But a more public vetting of the decision to go to war, culminating in a solemn declaration of war by Congress, would most likely ensure stronger public support for the war, by involving the people in the decision and assuring voters that the war had not been launched hastily or under false pretenses. Setbacks and sacrifices might be less surprising and more easily accepted.
Hah! Good luck. John Q. Public is no more fond of taking responsibility than anyone else, and cannot be counted on to research--much less stick with--a decision all by himself. Sad to say in a democracy, but true. Reps would have to be willing to make the case on their own (and risk losing voter support), not simply follow opinion polls--which is really just another way of abdicating responsibility.

Also, I wonder how the Armed Forces would react to such a vigorous interpretation of Article 1 Section 8, since soldiers do take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. How should they react to a situation where the Constitutional legitimacy of a war was called into question?

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Old 10-26-2005, 04:15 PM   #3
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Generally, I agree with this.

But unfortunately, once in a blue moon there just MIGHT be a Catch-22 situation where the process must be sped up a bit or a real genocide woud take place.

Kosovo is what I am thinking here. That was a situation (you will recall) where Slob Milosevich, in his renewed push for a Greate Serbia, simply had his forces literally push the entire population out of the province at gunpoint, having the border guards take the refugees' ID's on the way out so they could not go back in and legally claim property. I remember seeing the news reports. "Tom, all indications are that another 500,000 people crossed the border in the last 24 hours, and there might be close to a million in the next 72 hours." What do you do then? For the ditators have adopted to modern times too. there has to be contingency plan for "fast action" when the UN and/or the Eu are bickering or doing nothing *cough.*

Never thought I'd be saying this....but if it's a potential clear case of genocide like that, (and it beomes a "civil war" when we do nothing and the refugees decide to try to arm and fight back, as they did in Bosnia...) what do we do? This could become more frequent as wars are fought over natural resources, like water or *cough* oil, late or mid 21st century....ot take Rwanda. Iy took only 3 months for a million people to be buthered. Try and label it a tribal bloodbath, didn't work...10 yrs later we are cringing and saying a mea culpa. It's like wars have spend up with global communiations....

You might say, "that's why we are Iraq" but that's NOT why. If we had had any real desire to bring democray to Iraq we were perfetly capable of saying "screw the UN" in 1991 and taking out Saddam ourselves. But this time, it's about getting the oil. Before China gets it. I won't go into this...democracies are unprediatble things, capable of trowing out the occupiers if legally possible. But they'll never "tell" us to leave.....
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