Saturday, July 24, 2004
UPDATE: The entries are pouring in for our photo caption contest, but most of them seem to be coming from men, and it shows. Capturing a woman's voice requires either a good imagination -- or a woman.
The Unasked Question
THE CHOSEN. Few things raise our Celtic ire more than watching and listening to all the talking heads -- the political pundits of our day -- ignoring a very simple historical fact that spins around the periphery of our current discussion of the Iraq War, most notably the roles of Senators Kerry and Edwards. Senator Kerry's unchallenged doubletalk when asked if he is in favor of the war in Iraq is a constant reminder of the interviewers' failure to pursue the invisible question at the center of the war debate.
Let's start at the beginning. The President does not declare war. The Constitution of the United States assigns the responsibility to declare war to the legislative branch, defined in Article I, Section 8; Clause 11, "To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water." Article II, Section 2; Clause 1 of the Constitution gives the task of waging war to the executive branch of our government. It states, "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." Thus it falls to the President to carry out all declared wars on behalf of the United States and its citizens. These two parts of our constitution function in a very special way. First, they place the military power of the United States under civilian rule. Second, they divide the authority to commit and command these forces. Now why was this done?
Well, interestingly enough, the founders seemed to think that an executive, say, the Commander in Chief, might become overly ambitious and cavalierly dispose of the lives of U.S. citizens and U.S. treasure if he could go wherever he pleased with whatever force he desired. They had seen enough of this in the principalities and kingdoms of Europe. So they ensured that no war could be fought by the United States without the legislative branch of the government declaring one. Then, and only then, can the executive branch proceed to wage war.
On December 8, 1941, Congress did just that. President Roosevelt asked for and Congress granted a declaration of war. It is brief enough to be set here for your review:
Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
Three days later, the same declaration of war was issued against Germany, as follows:
Declaring that a state of war exists between the Government of Germany and the government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.
Whereas the Government of Germany has formally declared war against the government and the people of the United States of America:
Therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Government of Germany which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the government to carry on war against the Government of Germany; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
Thus began World War II as far as the United States was concerned.
The war against Iraq under President George W. Bush has not been so clear. Something very strange was done. Congress, in what would become Public Law No: 107-243, wasn't as straightforward. The Congress worked from October 2, 2002 through October 16, 2002 on House Joint Resolution 114 ("HJRes114"), which can be read HERE.
Much more lawyerly than the World War II declarations, HJRes114 winds through a series of WHEREAS clauses that recite how we got here from Iraq's aggressive foray into Kuwait in 1990. It states that "the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated." It reminisces about those halcyon days in 1998 where, in Public Law 105-235 (August 14, 1998), "Congress concluded that Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States interests and international peace and security, declared Iraq to be in `material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations' and urged the President `to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations.'" (It reminds us of those awful insurance policy forms that are incomprehensible to any normal human being.)
And there is more from the golden Clinton years -- regime change. That's right. It is Public Law 105-338 (October 31, 1998), which "expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." Congress has a sense? What does that mean?
There is sooo much more. Such as:
"Whereas Iraq's demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself."
It even cites the United Nations' Resolution 678 authorizing the use of all necessary means to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions.
This long WHEREAS section concludes with "Whereas it is in the national security interests of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region."
This means War! Right? Well, not exactly. It means that the House and Senate jointly resolve to support diplomatic efforts and the use of United States Armed Forces. Both? Yes, both. How does this work?
Well, it works like Section 3 (b) says it works in big, bold letters:
Presidential determination? What the hell is that? Did we miss this in the Constitution?
What it means is that Congress abdicated its duty under Article I, Section 8; Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution to declare war. Who did it give the care of this duty to? That's right, President George W. Bush. So, instead of Congress weighing the evidence and declaring war on a hostile nation, it spent nearly a week wrestling with the problem only to hand it back to the President and say, "Whatever you think."
You'd think that if a guy was willing to give away the store like this, he'd have to be pretty convinced it was time to go to war. Well, why not say that? Because if things don't work out as you hope they will, nobody can blame you. After all, you can say "PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION" meant whatever you want to say it meant for years to come.
But that was way back in October of 2002. We're now in 2004 and boy-oh-boy are the guys that voted for Public Law No: 107-243 mad, especially Senators Kerry and Edwards, the very guys that voted for this thing.
If Senators Kerry and Edwards ceded their right to declare war to the Executive Branch and have proceeded to say that the Executive Branch unwisely took the country to war, the central issue has to be: Why did they cede their constitutional authority to such a man - a man they speak of as if they never regarded him as fit for the role of commander-in-chief?
Can't somebody ask them why "PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION" seemed like such a great idea in 2002 and is such a dreadful idea now? Can we expect more constitutionally challenged decisions like this from them in the future or was this just a one-time thing?