Saturday, June 25, 2011

Regarding War Powers

Some time ago, the Congress of this republic (if it still may be called that), in a fit of self-assertion, adopted the War Powers Resolution.  The ostensible purpose of this resolution is to limit the powers of the executive to wage war without consultation with the legislature and without its approval.  It  was recognized that there were circumstances when congressional approval could not be obtained with the speed necessary to take action to protect the nation's best interests, and thus the resolution gives the president a kind of carte blanche to take such action for a limited period of time.

It is a rather odd bit of legislative legerdemain.  Although Congress has the power to declare war, it has not done so for quite some time.  It has, nonetheless, sanctioned what can only be described as war with some frequency since it last did so.  As a result, it plainly does not believe war must be declared in order for war to be waged, or at least believes it cannot take such a position without appearing most inconsistent and hypocritical.  Nevertheless, it thinks it must approve war in some sense if not declare it in order for there to be war.  But, it also believes that there are circumstances where its approval cannot be sought and obtained in a timely fashion, and so by the resolution allows the President to wage war, subject to certain conditions.

By implication at least, the resolution is therefore an acknowledgement by the Congress that if it ever had the sole power to authorize the United States to wage war it has waived that power.  In that sense it is a rather sad admission by the legislature of its lack of authority, but having codified such an admission, it seems to make sense to enforce it unless it is to be repealed.

Being something of a fan of our form of government, I applaud the efforts being made to apply the War Powers Resolution.  I understand those efforts may be politically motivated (though I think some of its current proponents are sincere).  I wish it had been enforced more strictly in the past, and hope it will be in the future.

I'm amused by the efforts of the current administration to define "hostilities" in such a fashion as to render the resolution inapplicable.  I was rather pleased to learn that there are lawyers in the government who reject such a definition and believe the resolution applies, and who have said so. 

The administration appears to accept a definition of "hostilities" which requires that the U.S. be engaged in land battles in order to be engaged in hostilities.  This is an astonishingly antiquated view.  The mere use of those new-fangled flying machines to devastate property and kill human beings simply is not enough, says the second president of the twenty-first century, to require that I seek congressional approval.  This is such an absurd position that the administration deserves to be mocked by such as Stephen Colbert.

This is not merely a question of the limits of presidential power or the extent of legislative power, however.  At issue is when military force may be utilized.  This is obviously a moral issue, but it is also, increasingly, an economic issue.

The rather unpredictable Senator McCain is given to calling those who seek to limit our regrettable tendency to wage war "isolationists."  One would think someone with his history would know better.  I don't find "isolationism" to be all that frightening of a word, myself, though certain kinds of isolationism can be excessive.  But even those who feel the United States should be imposing its views through military force all over the world must recognize the fact that it can no longer do so (if it ever truly could).  It has no money.  It must borrow money in order to engage in such a quest.  Even the dimmest of our politicians understand that money is power; they must understand as well that the absence of money renders us powerless.

Those who believe that we humans are motivated above all by economic considerations may be right.  We have not been able to restrain ourselves from going to war merely because it is a waste of lives.  Perhaps we will be able to do so because it has become an egregious waste of money.

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