Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution, sometimes referred to as the War Powers Clause, vests in the Congress the power to declare war.
Take a guess: When was the last time Congress declared war? If you answered Vietnam, if you answered Korea, you’d be wrong. We have to go back to World War II to find a formal declaration of war. At least in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Congress took some action to acknowledge that a war was being fought. When we worked with NATO forces to destroy the Kaddafi regime, there was a least a debate over whether President Obama needed Congressional approval to bomb and create a no-fly zone over Libya, albeit a minor one. On the other hand, we discover long after they prove to be disasters, that we are at war in Africa, other parts of the Middle East, and who knows where else. No Presidential request for permission is made and no Congressional outrage is heard, even from those yahoos who claim to carry a U.S. Constitution in their hip pocket. Instead, Congress goes about its business of dedicating buildings, appearing on Sunday talk shows, and arguing among themselves about how deep our country should go in debt. Sacrosanct is the ever-increasing cost of being a more and more aggressive fighting machine. Maybe, they should pause from their fund-raising calls and read Article One. They have the power to put a stop to a lot of death and destruction and make a huge dent in our debt, as an extra-added benefit.
Am I crazy? Any talk of reducing the military would be met with a clamor of, “Oh, no we can’t put our Nation’s security at risk.” Well I ask, “Where are the voices suggesting that one major reason we’re at risk in the first place is because we continue to be a huge military beast that eats money and human lives? President Obama used to be one of those voices until he tasted the forbidden fruit of power. Those voices, if there are any left, are drowned out by the industrial complex that profits from fear. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower are probably both sitting in heaven saying, “I told you so.”
There is a lot of rhetoric in Washington these days about reducing the debt, raising or lowering taxes, entitlements, and social costs. Yet, one expense is consistently off the table – the military. If Congress can seriously tackle the complexities of our tax code, surely they can have an intelligent discussion about the role of and the cost of our military. Congress is supposed to be a leader in this regard. FDR had to wait to come to the aid of England because he needed Congressional approval. It is only because Congress has deferred its power to the President that we find ourselves constantly at war and our soldiers killed and wounded year after year, regardless who is the President.
In the movie Speed, bad-guy Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) snarls to hero Jack, “A bomb is made to explode. That’s its meaning. Its purpose.” What is the purpose of our military — is it to protect our citizens, or is it to be an aggressive fighting machine designed to destroy those who our current President thinks evil. For close to two hundred years our military was only aggressive after Congress declared war. The Constitution was designed to make sure we never went to war at the whim of one man, no matter how popular or good. Only after World War II did we begin to let the President use military might to drive foreign policy. We became a “super power,” and once we developed “super powers” it is contrary to human nature to give them up.
President Obama and this newly-elected Congress have a wonderful opportunity.
In the face of our country’s need to rebuild our own infrastructure, educate our children, care for an aging population, we should rethink the role we want the military to play in the world. Congress should retake its power to declare war by refusing to fund hidden wars and demand that the President seek authority to continue the war in Afghanistan. The President should lead the discussion on the role of our military by asking that it be converted to a defensive force that protects our shores and citizens, and leaves aggressive peacekeeping to the United Nations. In simple terms we go on defense, instead of relying heavily on a sputtering offense.
What a legacy they both could leave. Instead of a President and Congress that wages wars on each other, they could become the President and Congress that gave peace a chance.