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Friday, June 24. 2011
Charles Krauthammer is usually an astute analyst of issues and often crafts perceptive and practical resolutions. In his column Who Takes Us To War?, however, Krauthammer’s resolution of the current impasse between the president and Congress over Libya would take us from the frying pan to the fire. Further, Krauthammer (acceptably since this isn’t the focus of his column) ignores the real underlying issue, how to wage war.
Krauthammer describes the impasse between President Obama and much of Congress and the public over his handling of the US involvement in the half-baked “kinetic’ operations with NATO in Libya. But Krauthammer advises to make the problem even worse by creating additional laws via a new grand commission to govern presidential-congressional relations over issues of armed actions. Such would, like all regulations, spew forth added complexities and wrangling, and possibly invite the courts into adjudicating matters of national security that to now they have avoided as properly “political” issues to be worked out between the president and Congress.
Krauthammer calls President Obama’s neglect of consulting with Congress over Libya and denying that we are actively involved in hostilities as “transparently ridiculous” and a “show of contempt for Congress and for the intelligence of the American people.”
Things came to a head today in the House, by bipartisan majorities rejecting both a resolution of support for the president’s course and a cut-off of funds for hostile operations. Congressional inaction leaves the president to proceed and leaves critics of his unilateral actions and the underarmed NATO campaign to fume.
There is only the future defunding of operations by the Congress that may enforce the 1973 War Powers Resolution that requires justification to Congress and a time limit beyond which Congress should authorize continuing armed operations. The courts have repeatedly avoided stepping into disputes, saying they are properly “political” matters to be resolved between the president and Congress.
In the waning days of the Vietnam War, Congressional opponents passed the War Powers Resolution over President Nixon’s veto in November 1973. Despite its provenance, presidents and Congress have generally found ways to meet its intent while preserving their prerogatives, practical and constitutional. The Library of Congress Law Library outlines the provisions and their applications and compromises since passage.
Without explicitly undermining presidential powers by citing the War Powers Resolution, presidents have previously reported to Congress and received resolutions of support.
President Obama has not reported to Congress nor received Congressional approval. That sets him and Libya clearly apart from the past four decades of presidential-Congressional relations.
Krauthammer suggests that the course forward is a grand commission to create “a set of rules governing the legality of any future wars.” Krauthammers proposed commission:
“…say, chaired by a former president of each party, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and consisting of former legislators, judges and generals, with perhaps a couple of historians and not more than one international lawyer thrown in. Then submit the commission’s proposed law for approval by Congress and the president. And have David McCullough read the final text aloud at the signing ceremony. That will make it official.
One can rather easily imagine the combination of platitudes, restrictions and evasions, most mouthed in a lack of specificity, which would emerge. Challenges would be brought to the courts, which if not avoiding the core “political” issues as heretofore would further complicate our ability to wage hostilities. One need only look at the restrictions imposed on our counter-terrorism and detainment operations since 9/11, our military restricted by rules of engagement that often are a Catch-22 between accomplishing the mission and staying alive or being fried by remote officers or judges.
Krauthammer says, “We need a new constitutional understanding, mutually agreed to by both political branches, that translates the war-declaration power into a more modern equivalent.”
The real issue, at least from Vietnam to today, is that our presidents have failed to follow time-tested rules of war, most particularly surprise and mass but also in some cases unity of command. This has repeatedly led to dragged out conflicts, unsure prospects, and increasing costs. Popular and Congressional support understandably withered. Perhaps with the exception of pulling the fat from the fire by President George Bush’s surge in Iraq, our objectives have been woefully undermined.
Lawfare has further complicated our ability to wage war but not fatally (except for some in the military or among civilian targets of terror). Our military has continued to exhibit the courage and agility to accomplish difficult objectives, at least the objectives that they are allowed.
Americans and Congress will support winning and applaud it. In the absence of the clearly expressed and acted upon will to win, applying overwhelming mass, denying rear sanctuaries, and not incrementally ratcheting up so that the foe is able to adjust and reinforce, criticism and challenges will just add to the weakness of results and erosion of objectives.
As with the president returning to respect the partnership of Congress and the intelligence of Americans, the president – this one probably not, but future ones – must return to respecting the time-tested principles of warfare.
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Krauthammer is increasingly becoming irrelevant. The problem is spineless representatives and senators that do not want a paper trail fro any decision they ever made. Don't derail the gravy train is the motto of the day.
Amen, Bruce. I agree with you 100%. I find this especially gut-wrenching:
Our military has continued to exhibit the courage and agility to accomplish difficult objectives, at least the objectives that they are allowed.
Every day at the Pentagon I converse with senior, experienced SNCOs of the Army and the Corps who simply suck it up and go on, again and again. They only slow down when they lose limbs, ot their sanity. Their dedication both shames this old Vietnam vet and swells my heart with pride in these great Americans who give so much more devotion to our country than do the politicians and talking heads like Krauthammer (no offense intended).
I agree with both of you.
As to how spineless our representatives are, just look at the vote today. Congress was hopping mad that Obummer REFUSES to consult them on Lybia, but they weren't willing to stop funding his "kinetic operation" and force him to do it.
Which is a metaphor for my next point. We haven't waged an "unlimited" war since WWII. All wars are cruel, but I think there is a good argument that "unlimited" wars are shorter and thus less cruel and more successful for us in the longer run. That doesn't mean to turn every war into an atomic contest, but the rules of engagement that we use are often far too restrictive and I believe this is because we as a country have gotten too squeamish just as Congress has gotten too squeamish to confront Obummer on this.
This particular president does not respect the separation of powers. What the founders understood as a separation of powers is in reality a brake on the system. Since Obama does not respect that concept, there is no brake on his actions. He believes that he can do whatever he wants. He is a fierce competitor and sees no reason to compromise with Republicans. His ideas are set in concrete and he does not change his mind.
Congress has not yet figured this out, and doesn't understand that he intends to go his own way and needs no Congressional approval. They are still looking for compromise and conversation. Obama thought he'd just turn Libya over to the coalition and they would do his bidding. Didn't understand that they weren't really up to it. Afghanistan was, to him, pursuit of bin Laden—the correct aim of the War on Terror—not the improper war in Iraq that the hated Bush pursued. Now that's done, he can revert to his anti-war posture and make his base happy.
Even if Congress voted to deny funds to the prosecution of the "kinetic military action," who would enforce it? All the bureaucrats work for the president. He'd order them to continue spending, if necessary by 'transferring' funds from some other account. There is no solution other than impeachment.
Boehner has thrown down the gauntlet. Just a snatch that I heard at the top of the news on radio today and haven't been able to find on the web, he stated, from the well of The House, that the debate is irrelevant. He vowed, as the leader of that body, that he could not and would not allow the President to usurp The Congress' Constitutional prerogatives. Game on.
Yall might like to read Senate Resolution 85, Passed Senate without amendment 3/1/2011.
(7) urges the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory;