Saturday, December 12, 2009

#181 Our Unconstutional Middle-East Wars

Can you just imagine the reaction of Jefferson, Madison, or Adams ... or Franklin, Hamilton or Jay (at right) ... or a fortiori George Washington, he of the "avoid-foreign-entanglements" valedictory--when confronted with the question: "Sir, What do you think of our current President sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan?" Okay, I know this little bit of business borders on the intellectually naive, but, playing along, if you could get an answer before they all dropped dead all over again in apoplectic shock, you know what it would be. Beginning with the obvious, even in the 18th Century: "Why, son, everybody knows that Afghanistan is the Graveyard of Empires! How did our troops get there in the first place?!" This would be followed by myriad other founding-fatherly objections. So very many, and so well-known, that I can leave them to you. Except for Constitutionality.

Though I'm sure many were swayed by the President's speech last week--I predict his approval ratings going up a few notches (which is good for doing good in other crucial areas)--but for those who legitimately were not ... take heart. Not only would the Founding Fathers find the Bush/Obama [oops] desert adventures preposterous, they would declare them gravely unconstitutional. Nothing new here, I know, but it should be said again. In fact, "WWOFFD?" might be a good T-shirt blazon for the kids in these war-anguished times. But really, it's what our FF's wouldn't do that is the point. If they were in Congress, the vote to DECLARE such military adventurism would simply never have come up. Constitutionally, the CONGRESS makes war; only then does the PRESIDENT wage it. In that order. It's a little more complicated than that today, for one reason only: the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

More of that later, but first: it's surprising just how little is said about War, in the Constitution. No single Article of the seven is devoted solely to the subject, nor a single Section of an Article. In fact, it's only THREE WORDS of one half-sentence, located in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, bundled up with 17 others of seemingly equal importance like coining money, establishing a post office, and pursuing pirates. Under the general rubric introducing the Section--"Congress shall have the power ..."--will appear in due numerical course the little #11: "To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal [i.e. seizure of property], and to make rules concerning captures on land and water." That's it.

So little is said, I believe, because there was so little concern. The Framers apparently thought their wars were decisively over. And with the new and improved version of the (flawed) Articles of Confederation, now to be called the Constitution of the U.S., foreign powers just wouldn't have a chance against such an undivided national state. It also didn't hurt to have a vast ocean between us and Europe, either ... and NOT to have a KING. Wars would henceforth be a European problem, the "sport of kings"--as it had always been--on the hunting grounds of a fractious and fragmented Continent. A newly "constituted" America would be immune to all of that, and by its very nature immune from making such senseless warfare. John Jay argues as much in three of the Federalist Papers he authored, dealing with the influence of foreign powers. Here's an excerpt from FP #4:

It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay ABSOLUTE MONARCHIES will often mke war when their nations are TO GET NOTHING BY IT, but for the purposes and objects MERELY PERSONAL, such as a THIRST FOR MILITARY GLORY, REVENGE for personal affronts, AMBITION or PRIVATE COMPACTS [Halliburton, Blackwater?] to AGGRANDIZE their particular families, or PARTISANS. These and a variety of motives, which affect only the mind of the SOVEREIGN, often leads him to to engage in WARS NOT SANCTIFIED BY JUSTICE, OR THE VOICE AND INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE. But INDEPENDENT of these inducements to war ...
But are we? Well, we don't have a Monarch, but an "Imperial Presidency" has sufficed for the past six decades. (more)

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