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Writing a Blank Check on War for the President

 
 
Reply Thu 7 Apr, 2016 07:29 pm
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
http://billmoyers.com/story/writing-a-blank-check-on-war-for-the-president/

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky or just plain pissed off.

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The examples are legion. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After US entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote.

More often than not, the passing of the emergency induces second thoughts and even remorse. The further into the past a particular war recedes, the more dubious the wartime arguments for violating the Constitution appear. Americans thereby take comfort in the “lessons learned” that will presumably prohibit any future recurrence of such folly.

Even so, the onset of the next war finds the Constitution once more being ill-treated. We don’t repeat past transgressions, of course. Instead, we devise new ones. So it has been during the ongoing post-9/11 period of protracted war.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States embraced torture as an instrument of policy in clear violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, ordered the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen, a death by drone that was visibly in disregard of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Both administrations — Bush’s with gusto, Obama’s with evident regret — imprisoned individuals for years on end without charge and without anything remotely approximating the “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Should the present state of hostilities ever end, we can no doubt expect Guantánamo to become yet another source of “lessons learned” for future generations of rueful Americans.

Congress on the Sidelines

Yet one particular check-and-balance constitutional proviso now appears exempt from this recurring phenomenon of disregard followed by professions of dismay, embarrassment and “never again-ism” once the military emergency passes. I mean, of course, Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which assigns to Congress the authority “to declare war” and still stands as testimony to the genius of those who drafted it. There can be no question that the responsibility for deciding when and whether the United States should fight resides with the legislative branch, not the executive, and that this was manifestly the intent of the Framers.

On parchment at least, the division of labor appears straightforward. The president’s designation as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in no way implies a blanket authorization to employ those forces however he sees fit or anything faintly like it. Quite the contrary: legitimizing presidential command requires explicit congressional sanction.

Actual practice has evolved into something altogether different. The portion of Article I, Section 8, cited above has become a dead letter, about as operative as blue laws still on the books in some American cities and towns that purport to regulate Sabbath day activities. Superseding the written text is an unwritten counterpart that goes something like this: with legislators largely consigned to the status of observers, presidents pretty much wage war whenever, wherever, and however they see fit. Whether the result qualifies as usurpation or forfeiture is one of those chicken-and-egg questions that’s interesting but practically speaking beside the point.

Should the present state of hostilities ever end, we can no doubt expect Guantánamo to become yet another source of ‘lessons learned’ for future generations of rueful Americans.
This is by no means a recent development. It has a history. In the summer of 1950, when President Harry Truman decided that a UN Security Council resolution provided sufficient warrant for him to order US forces to fight in Korea, congressional war powers took a hit from which they would never recover.

Congress soon thereafter bought into the notion, fashionable during the Cold War, that formal declarations of hostilities had become passé. Waging the “long twilight struggle” ostensibly required deference to the commander-in-chief on all matters related to national security. To sustain the pretense that it still retained some relevance, Congress took to issuing what were essentially permission slips, granting presidents maximum freedom of action to do whatever they might decide needed to be done in response to the latest perceived crisis.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964 offers a notable example. With near unanimity, legislators urged President Lyndon Johnson “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” across the length and breadth of Southeast Asia. Through the magic of presidential interpretation, a mandate to prevent aggression provided legal cover for an astonishingly brutal and aggressive war in Vietnam, as well as Cambodia and Laos. Under the guise of repelling attacks on US forces, Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, thrust millions of American troops into a war they could not win, even if more than 58,000 died trying.

To leap almost four decades ahead, think of the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) that was passed by Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 as the grandchild of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This document required (directed, called upon, requested, invited, urged) President George W. Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” In plain language: here’s a blank check; feel free to fill it in any way you like.

Forever War

As a practical matter, one specific individual — Osama bin Laden — had hatched the 9/11 plot. A single organization — al-Qaeda — had conspired to pull it off. And just one nation — backward, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — had provided assistance, offering sanctuary to bin Laden and his henchmen. Yet nearly 15 years later, the AUMF remains operative and has become the basis for military actions against innumerable individuals, organizations and nations with no involvement whatsoever in the murderous events of September 11, 2001.

Consider the following less than comprehensive list of four developments, all of which occurred just within the last month and a half:

*In Yemen, a US airstrike killed at least 50 individuals, said to be members of an Islamist organization that did not exist on 9/11.

*In Somalia, another US airstrike killed a reported 150 militants, reputedly members of al-Shabab, a very nasty outfit, even if one with no real agenda beyond Somalia itself.

*In Syria, pursuant to the campaign of assassination that is the latest spin-off of the Iraq War, US special operations forces bumped off the reputed “finance minister” of the Islamic State, another terror group that didn’t even exist in September 2001.

*In Libya, according to press reports, the Pentagon is again gearing up for “decisive military action” — that is, a new round of air strikes and special operations attacks to quell the disorder resulting from the US-orchestrated air campaign that in 2011 destabilized that country. An airstrike conducted in late February gave a hint of what is to come: it killed approximately 50 Islamic State militants (and possibly two Serbian diplomatic captives).

Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya share at least this in common: none of them, nor any of the groups targeted, had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.

Imagine if, within a matter of weeks, China were to launch raids into Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan, with punitive action against the Philippines in the offing. Or if Russia, having given a swift kick to Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan, leaked its plans to teach Poland a lesson for mismanaging its internal affairs. Were Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin to order such actions, the halls of Congress would ring with fierce denunciations. Members of both houses would jostle for places in front of the TV cameras to condemn the perpetrators for recklessly violating international law and undermining the prospects for world peace. Having no jurisdiction over the actions of other sovereign states, senators and representatives would break down the doors to seize the opportunity to get in their two cents worth. No one would be able to stop them. Who does Xi think he is! How dare Putin!


When Obama in 2015 went so far as to ask Congress to pass a new AUMF addressing the specific threat posed by the Islamic State — that is, essentially rubberstamping the war he had already launched on his own in Syria and Iraq — the Republican leadership took no action.
Yet when an American president undertakes analogous actions over which the legislative branch does have jurisdiction, members of Congress either yawn or avert their eyes.

In this regard, Republicans are especially egregious offenders. On matters where President Obama is clearly acting in accordance with the Constitution — for example, in nominating someone to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court — they spare no effort to thwart him, concocting bizarre arguments nowhere found in the Constitution to justify their obstructionism. Yet when this same president cites the 2001 AUMF as the basis for initiating hostilities hither and yon, something that is on the face of it not legal but ludicrous, they passively assent.

Indeed, when Obama in 2015 went so far as to ask Congress to pass a new AUMF addressing the specific threat posed by the Islamic State — that is, essentially rubberstamping the war he had already launched on his own in Syria and Iraq — the Republican leadership took no action. Looking forward to the day when Obama departs office, Senator Mitch McConnell with his trademark hypocrisy worried aloud that a new AUMF might constrain his successor. The next president will “have to clean up this mess, created by all of this passivity over the last eight years,” the majority leader remarked. In that regard, “an authorization to use military force that ties the president’s hands behind his back is not something I would want to do.” The proper role of Congress was to get out of the way and give this commander-in-chief carte blanche so that the next one would enjoy comparably unlimited prerogatives.

Collaborating with a president they roundly despise — implicitly concurring in Obama’s questionable claim that “existing statutes [already] provide me with the authority I need” to make war on ISIS — the GOP-controlled Congress thereby transformed the post-9/11 AUMF into what has now become, in effect, a writ of permanent and limitless armed conflict. In Iraq and Syria, for instance, what began as a limited but open-ended campaign of air strikes authorized by President Obama in August 2014 has expanded to include an ever-larger contingent of US trainers and advisers for the Iraqi military, special operations forces conducting raids in both Iraq and Syria, the first new all – US forward fire base in Iraq, and at least 5,000 US military personnel now on the ground, a number that continues to grow incrementally.

Remember Barack Obama campaigning back in 2008 and solemnly pledging to end the Iraq War? What he neglected to mention at the time was that he was retaining the prerogative to plunge the country into another Iraq War on his own ticket. So has he now done, with members of Congress passively assenting and the country essentially a POW.

By now, through its inaction, the legislative branch has, in fact, surrendered the final remnant of authority it retained on matters relating to whether, when, against whom and for what purpose the United States should go to war. Nothing now remains but to pay the bills, which Congress routinely does, citing a solemn obligation to “support the troops.” In this way does the performance of lesser duties provide an excuse for shirking far greater ones.

In military circles, there is a term to describe this type of behavior. It’s called cowardice.
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bobsal u1553115
 
  0  
Reply Fri 8 Apr, 2016 10:22 am
After the stupidity and bloody, bloody clumsy way conduct of that useless war, the fact it was the first war ever fought by the US where funding of it wasn't part of it up front.

Our kids will be paying for Dick Cheney's wealth for years and years and years. Chinese bought 30-year T-notes financed those wars
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 8 Apr, 2016 11:14 am
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2016/04/07/world-war-three-may-have-already-begun-in-iraq-and-syria/?utm_source=facebook
The recent death of a Marine in Iraq exposed the fact the United States set up a firebase there, which in turn exposed the fact the Pentagon misrepresented the number of American personnel in Iraq by as many as 2,000. It appears a second firebase exists, set up on the grounds of one of America’s largest installations in the last Iraq war. Special operations forces range across the landscape. The Pentagon is planning for even more troops. There can be no more wordplay: America now has boots on the ground in Iraq.

The regional picture is dismal. In Syria, militias backed by the Central Intelligence Agency are fighting those backed by the Pentagon. British, Jordanian and American special forces are fighting various enemies in Libya, which, as a failed state, is little more than a nascent Iraq likely to metastasize in its neighbors.

But Iraq remains the center of what Jordanian King Abdullah now refers to as the Third World War. It is where Islamic State was birthed, and where the United States seems to be digging in for the long haul.

Though arguably the story of Islamic State, Iraq and the United States can be traced to the lazy division of the Ottoman Empire after World War One, things truly popped out of place in 2003, when the U.S. invasion of Iraq unleashed the forces now playing out across the Middle East. The garbled post-invasion strategy installed a Shi’ite-dominated, Iranian-supported government in Baghdad, with limited Sunni buy-in.

Sectarian fighting and central-government corruption favoring the Shi’ites drove non-ideologues without jobs, and religious zealots with an agenda, together. Clumsy policy cemented the relationship. A senior Islamic State commander explained that the prison at Camp Bucca, operated by the United States, was directly responsible for the rise of the violent, theocratic state inside the divided, but then still largely secular Iraq. “It made it all; it built our ideology,” he said. “We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else.” So, first came al Qaeda in Iraq, followed by its successor, Islamic State.

Fast-forward through about a year and half of Washington fear-mongering (that caliphate, those lone wolves), as well as the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, and America’s re-entry into Iraq moved quickly from a Yazidi rescue mission to advisors to air power to commandos to today’s boots on the ground.

Even if Islamic State is destroyed (as every American leader or potential leader has promised), the problems in Iraq, Syria and virtually everywhere else in the Middle East would still plague the rest of the world. Islamic State is a response, and its absence would only leave a void to be filled by something else. The root problem is the disruption of the balance of power in the Middle East, brought on by a couple of regime changes too many.

The primary forces that the United States are supporting to attack Islamic State in Iraq’s Sunni territories are Shi’ite militias. Though they have been given a new name — Popular Mobilization Units — that does not change who they are. One particularly horrifying example: A Shi’ite fighter asked his Instagram viewers to vote on whether or not he should execute a Sunni prisoner.

Washington clings to the hope that the militias and the U.S. administration are united against a common foe – the bad Sunnis in Islamic State. The Iranians and their allies in Baghdad, who are also supporting many of the same militias, are more likely to see this is as a war against the Sunnis in general.

As for any sort of brokered settlement among the non-Islamic State actors in Iraq, if 170,000 American troops could not accomplish that in almost nine years of trying, retrying it on a tighter timetable with fewer resources is highly unlikely to work. It is unclear what solutions the United States has left to peddle anyway, or with what credibility it would sell them, but many groups will play along to gain access to American military power for their own ends.

With no change on the horizon, it seems likely that President Barack Obama’s successor will be inheriting, in the words of one commentator, a “bold new decade-old strategy” that relies on enormous expenditures for minimal gains. The question that needs to be asked is: If war in Iraq didn’t work last time, why will it work this time?
0 Replies
 
Blickers
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Apr, 2016 07:41 pm
They should re-name this thread Bernie Supporters Lose Hope And Decide To Throw Themselves Out Of Tenth Story Windows.
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 8 Apr, 2016 07:45 pm
@Blickers,
What a dork. No wonder I have you on ignore 99% of the time.
Blickers
 
  2  
Reply Fri 8 Apr, 2016 08:12 pm
@edgarblythe,
A couple of quotes from your article:
Quote:
The regional picture is dismal.


Quote:
But Iraq remains the center of what Jordanian King Abdullah now refers to as the Third World War


We get it, you think everything sucks. Fine. But I think Hitler was probably more optimistic than the author of that article when he blew his brains out in the Berlin bunker.
0 Replies
 
bobsal u1553115
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2016 06:34 am
@Blickers,
Surely you're only response isn't meaningless snark!
0 Replies
 
oralloy
 
  -2  
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2016 02:26 pm
@edgarblythe,
Quote:
During the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States embraced torture as an instrument of policy in clear violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

While torture is clearly a violation of both US and international law, I don't think the torture was intended as punishment.


Quote:
Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, ordered the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen, a death by drone that was visibly in disregard of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

No part of the Constitution forbids the military from firing on enemy soldiers in a time of war.


Quote:
Both administrations — Bush’s with gusto, Obama’s with evident regret — imprisoned individuals for years on end without charge and without anything remotely approximating the “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Trials are for criminal prosecution, not for POWs who are being detained until the end of the war.

The detainees are allowed to challenge their POW status in court.


Quote:
As a practical matter, one specific individual — Osama bin Laden — had hatched the 9/11 plot. A single organization — al-Qaeda — had conspired to pull it off. And just one nation — backward, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — had provided assistance, offering sanctuary to bin Laden and his henchmen. Yet nearly 15 years later, the AUMF remains operative and has become the basis for military actions against innumerable individuals, organizations and nations with no involvement whatsoever in the murderous events of September 11, 2001.

Many of those targeted groups are offshoots of al-Qa'ida.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2016 02:44 pm
The US Air Force deployed B-52 bombers to Qatar on Saturday to join the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - the first time the aircraft have been based in the Middle East since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Washington's decision to deploy its powerful B-52 bombers to the Al Udeid Air Base came as the American military stepped up the fight in neighbouring Iraq and Syria against ISIL, also known as ISIS.


"The B-52 demonstrates our continued resolve to apply persistent pressure on Daesh and defend the region in any future contingency," said Air Force Lieutenant General Charles Brown, commander of US Air Forces Central Command, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Karns, spokesman for the Central Command, said he could not provide the exact number of B-52 bombers to be based at Al Udeid because of "operational security reasons".

Brown said the bombers would be able to deliver precision weapons and carry out a range of missions, including strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, and maritime operations.

Karns said the bombers would enable US forces to drop one or two munitions in an area, rather than massive indiscriminate bombing.

"Accuracy is critically important in this war," he said. "Carpet-bombing would not be effective for the operation we're in because Daesh doesn't mass as large groups. Often they blend into population centres. We always look to minimise civilian casualties."

The Central Command said it last flew the long-range bombers operationally in the region in May 2006 as part of the war in Afghanistan, and during a US-led military exercise in Jordan in May 2015.


bobsal u1553115
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Apr, 2016 02:47 pm
@edgarblythe,
Its worrisome. The only redeeming factor is there is no way in Hell ISIS can bring one down. That would be gasoline on the fire.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Sun 10 Apr, 2016 12:50 pm
http://abc13.com/1284926/
ALEXANDER MALLIN
Updated 1 hr 32 mins ago
In his final year in office, President Obama has spent a significant amount of time emphasizing what he sees as his long list of accomplishments since 2008, but in an interview today he also admitted what he considers to be his "worst mistake."

"Probably failing to plan for, the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya," Obama said an interview with "Fox News Sunday."

The 2011 U.S.-backed intervention that helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi wound up thrusting the country into turmoil that has only spiraled downward since.

Both Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to argue that it wasn't the removal of Gaddafi that caused the chaos, but rather the failure to prop up a stable government in the days following. An ISIS affiliate has since gained a foothold in the country, and the U.S. has carried out airstrikes against "ISIS camps" as recently as February.

"That's a lesson I now apply when we're asked to intervene militarily. Do we have a plan for the day after?" Obama said in an interview with the BBC that aired two weeks ago.

As for his biggest accomplishment, Obama said he believes it would be his actions just after taking office following the 2008 recession, "saving the economy from a Great Depression."
bobsal u1553115
 
  1  
Reply Mon 11 Apr, 2016 05:28 am
@edgarblythe,
Too bad for Libya we had to learn that lesson so soon again after Iraq.
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Mon 11 Apr, 2016 08:51 am
@bobsal u1553115,
The lesson isn't learned. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is policy.
0 Replies
 
bobsal u1553115
 
  1  
Reply Sat 23 Apr, 2016 03:51 pm
The war would end by instituting the draft.
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sat 23 Apr, 2016 06:10 pm
@bobsal u1553115,
A fair draft that includes politicians and wealthy people's kids, without favoritism, would ensure we only fight if necessary. I have long held the same position. I had a boss that told me she would gladly sacrifice her son in the Iraq War. I told her they take women too. She never brought up the war again.
0 Replies
 
 

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