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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


The war powers two-step

Under the fraudulent headline "Put War Powers Back Where They Belong," two war-mongers, James Baker and Warren Christopher, propose an equally fraudulent replacement for the War Powers Act. They start with another fraudulent statement:
Our Constitution ambiguously divides war powers between the president (who is the commander in chief) and Congress (which has the power of the purse and the power to declare war).
But the "commander-in-chief" doesn't decide what wars to fight, any more than generals do. The commander in chief and generals decide how to fight wars. What wars are to be fought is unambiguously the province of Congress, which has the sole power to declare war. Indeed, as this blogger writes (hat tip Cursor), when the Constitution makes the President commander-in-chief, the rest of the sentence must be read as well:
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.
So only after Congress declares war, calling the armed forces "into the service of the United States," does the President even become commander-in-chief.

But for all the fraudulent character of its underlying premise, Baker and Christopher's actual proposal is even more fraudulent. It "provide[s] that the president must consult with Congress before ordering a 'significant armed conflict' — defined as combat operations that last or are expected to last more than a week." Even ignoring the fact that "expectations" can be substantially lower than reality (Donald Rumsfeld on the invasion of Iraq: "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."), there have been many illegal U.S. invasions which have lasted less than a week - the invasion of Grenada and the invasion of Panama for starters.

Then there's that word "consult." WTF does that mean? Why don't they write "the President must get the 'approval' of Congress," why just use the word "consult"? Because that's precisely what they mean. "Hey guys (and gals), I'm about to invade Iran. What do you think? You don't approve? Ah, well, thanks for letting me 'consult' with you."

Then we get to the "well, not always" clause:

If secrecy or other circumstances precluded prior consultation, then consultation — not just notification — would need to be undertaken within three days.
But "secrecy or other circumstances" can always be invoked when war is concerned, and once a war is launched, well, we all know we can't deny funding to the troops "in harm's way." Well, maybe you and I could, but Congress can't or won't. It's downright unpatriotic, don't you know? Practically treasonous not to "support the troops" in "harm's way."

Ah, but the Congress has options!

Unless it declared war or otherwise expressly authorized a conflict, it would have to vote within 30 days on a resolution of approval. If the resolution of approval was defeated in either House, any member of Congress could propose a resolution of disapproval. Such a resolution would have the force of law, however, only if it were passed by both houses and signed by the president or the president’s veto were overridden. If the resolution of disapproval did not survive the president’s veto, Congress could express its opposition by, for example, using its internal rules to block future spending on the conflict.
Did you follow all that? First, Congress gets to vote to approve. But if they don't approve, it doesn't mean a thing! Next, someone has to propose a "resolution of disapproval." Not a law, mind you, just a "resolution," which has not the slightest force of law. Even then, the resolution of disapproval can be vetoed by the President, which means that unless 2/3 of the Congress disapproves, the resolution of disapproval fails. And if it passes? It still doesn't mean a damn thing! Because whether it does or not, Congress' only real power is to block "future spending" on the conflict. But since the budget for any given year already includes a trillion dollars for the military, it could be one heck of a long time (and one heck of a lot of dead people) before Congress' power of the purse could be brought to bear (assuming it ever would be, of course, which history shows has a probability of precisely zero).

Baker and Christopher conclude:

"The statute is good for Congress because the legislative branch would get a more significant role when the nation decides whether to go to war."
To which I conclude, hahahahahahahahahahaha. Are you effing kidding me, Jack?

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