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Commander in ChiefPosted Friday, March 25, 2011, at 6:19 PM
"The Congress shall have Power To ... declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water ..." Article I, United States Constitution.
"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..." Article II, United States Constitution.
In their profound wisdom, our founders put virtually all government power in tension between two or more branches. Just as our Democratic friends howled at President Bush for his use of military force without a Congressional declaration of war, many of our Republican friends are howling at President Obama for our military intervention in Libya.
President Obama's use of military force in Libya without a Congressional declaration of war, without even the informed consent of Congress, is NOT a violation of his oath of office or a breech of the Constitution. There is only one Commander in Chief, not 435. Our founders, in their debates on the Constitution, were very aware of this point of tension between the branches. They were persuaded by the history of Rome in the efficacy of a single civilian military commander. Likewise, their proper fear of despotism and awareness of the fallibility of human nature checked that power with the Congress.
In 1975, President Ford signed the War Powers Act. This law was intended to restrict the powers of a President to wage war. It was a reaction to the collapse of popular support for the war in Vietnam.
This statute has never been tested in Court; however, it would likely be found unconstitutional. No one has any duty to abide by any unconstitutional law. Violating the War Powers Act is not a crime if it is unconstitutional, as every single President has declared since President Jimmy Carter. In any case, Congress already has the ultimate power to restrict a president's attempt to wage war; they can pass a law defunding it.
Unfortunately, Libya now represents an opportunity lost.
Toppling the government of an extremely important strategic ally, like Egypt, is a very risky proposition. A revolution should only be supported if it furthers American interests. In particular, if will lead to a government that is not only democratic, but is also friendly to us and at peace with Israel.
The revolution in Iran should have been supported, as it is virtually impossible for a government more antagonistic to us and our interests to take its place. Likewise, in the early days of the revolution in Libya, it appeared to be a genuinely popular uprising that did not appear likely to result in a less favorable government. However, as we dithered, the ordinary citizens had to get back to the business of supporting themselves and their families. Now, it appears that the revolutionaries are in part supported by Al Qaeda and in part are Al Qaeda and Iranian supported Islamists.
Now we are in a lose, lose, lose situation. If the revolution succeeds, Libya is likely to become another Afghanistan or Somalia, but with oil revenues; another Iran. If the revolution fails, Khadafi will retain the full power and resources of his state. He must feel bitterly betrayed by after voluntarily surrendering his weapons of mass destruction to the U.S., we then tried to depose him. He then has every reason to uses his power and resources to attack us, attack our interests, and fund our enemies. In the alternative, we could remain in a perpetual state of semi-hot (lukewarm?) war trying to keep both sides in a stalemate until Khadafi dies. In that case, with our military engaged on three fronts, how will we pose a credible threat to deter the hostility of others? There simply won't be the military resources to effectively respond to another threat.
Of all of people aware of the lessons of Vietnam, our President should be acutely aware of the importance of having a well-defined and attainable goal before committing American forces. Another lesson of Vietnam is that indecisiveness leads to opportunities forever lost as well as the loss of credibility in a world governed by the aggressive use of force. Perhaps the most important lesson of Vietnam is that wars should be run by generals as politicians inevitably put political gain over military advantage and turn conflicts into quagmires.
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