Thursday, June 23, 2011

War Powers

This bothers me a lot:

It has now been over three months since the first NATO bombs fell on Libya, yet President Obama has failed to request Congressional approval for military action, as required by the War Powers Act of 1973. The legal machinations Mr. Obama has used to justify war without Congressional consent set a troubling precedent that could allow future administrations to wage war at their convenience — free of legislative checks and balances.


Last Sunday was the 90th day of bombing in Libya, but Mr. Obama — armed with dubious legal opinions — is refusing to stop America’s military engagement there. His White House counsel, Robert F. Bauer, has declared that, despite the War Powers Act, the president can continue the Libya campaign indefinitely without legislative support. ...

Since the 1930s, it has been the job of an elite office in the Justice Department — the Office of Legal Counsel — to serve as the authoritative voice on matters of legal interpretation. The approximately 25 lawyers in this office write legal opinions after hearing arguments from the White House as well as other executive branch departments...


This pre-emptive move was not unprecedented. During George W. Bush’s administration, shortly after 9/11, the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, led an ad hoc war council that included State and Defense Department officials. It was in this hyper-politicized setting that John Yoo, representing the Office of Legal Counsel, prepared his notorious “torture memos” for President Bush’s approval.


From a moral perspective, there is a significant difference between authorizing torture and continuing a bombing campaign that may save thousands of Libyans from slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But from a legal viewpoint, Mr. Obama is setting an even worse precedent.

Although Mr. Yoo’s memos made a mockery of the applicable law, they at least had the approval of the Office of Legal Counsel.


This is a Beltway detail of major significance...


Allowing the trivialization of the War Powers Act to stand will open the way for even more blatant acts of presidential war-making in the decades ahead....

It's also not unprecedented that presidents who have trouble dealing with domestic issues because of Congressional ineptitude or rank politics turn to foreign policy -- and wars -- where they have a freer hand. (I can relate: the operating room was always a [too-brief] sanctuary from the oppressive exigencies of the office; in it, I was pretty much in charge of what happened.) But if abuses were horrifying when it was President Cheney and his lackeys committing them, it was not unexpected. For Barack Obama to be dragging us down the same path is extremely disappointing. (I acknowledge that not all experts find fault with Obama's rationalizations.)

I don't (yet) doubt his noble intentions, to save the slaughter of innocent Libyans. But if he, with his Harvard Law Degree and presidency of its Law Review, can't resist the siren pull of unfettered power, free of congressional constraints, then what can we expect when the next Cheney gets in there? Or, worse, a Palin or a Bachmann or, god help us all, a Newt Gingrich. (Thankfully, that last possibility seems so remote that I'm almost -- but can't imagine ever actually -- starting to feel sorry for the guy.)

So here's an idea: how about a law that requires a president, when he or she sends American forces into action, no matter the status vis a vis the War Powers Act -- any action whatever -- he or she must address a representative and large gathering of the troops, their spouses, their kids, their parents, and say this to them, looking them in the eye:

I, your president, have chosen to send you to war, knowing some of you will die, and that many more of you will returned gravely wounded, maimed for life. And I recognize that nearly all of you who come home will bear psychological damage for the rest of your days. I have chosen to do this, acknowledging the human toll of my decision, for the following reasons...

Or something like it. And when he or she is finished, he or she must shake the hand of every soldier, every spouse, every child and parent in the room, saying, "I hope you make it. I hope your daddy or mommy makes it, I hope your child makes it." While promising -- with the power of laws not yet written, thanks to our fiscally "responsible" but oh, so patriotic Congress -- to take care of every one of them in whatever way necessary, for as long as it takes.

[Addendum: I just saw this cartoon, which I'm unable to embed. Worth a watch.]


Anonymous said...

"John Yoo, representing the Office of Legal Counsel, prepared his notorious “torture memos” for President Bush’s approval."

So guess who's now saying that Obama has usurped powers beyond those the constitution granted to the presidency.

Yoo know who, don't you?


Sid Schwab said...

Yep. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the War Powers Act to be a method of escaping responsibility. After all, it's kind of difficult to run a war without funding. And if you fund it, it's kind of hard to say you haven't approved it.

I'd say the line was crossed back when Congress passed the law.


Sid Schwab said...

Good point, MV.

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