Through the United States’ decade-long invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, a heavy burden of military involvement abroad has been placed on each state’s National Guard. Curtis Coleman, a conservative Republican candidate for governor in Arkansas, openly opposes sending his state’s troops into such undeclared wars.
Peculiar Progressive has been opposing these military invasions, and has wondered if any state’s governor would ever show courage enough to buck the federal government in its forcing a state’s citizens to continually risk and lose their lives, limbs and psyches.
Internet research has shown only one—a Green Party candidate for governor in 2009, Rich Whitney of Illinois—who publicly opposed sending National Guard troops overseas. Perhaps others have braved such stances, but they’re certainly rare and surely not heavily publicized by a profit-minded corporate media that supports endless war.
These days, the states’ governors have united behind their National Guards, but it’s because of funding-cut threats coming from Washington. As far as reluctance to offer their citizens in sacrifice in undeclared wars, no state executive seems to have opposed that.
Enter Coleman, a successful businessman and conservative Arkansas Republican. That’s right: Arkansas, home of Bill Clinton, who as president—although he signed legislation that turned the nation’s media over to a handful of moguls and bared the world economy to the wolves of Wall Street—did avoid invading foreign lands and miring us down in any new Vietnam.
We haven’t been so lucky under George W. Bush or Barack Obama. And they’ve freely exploited the country’s National Guards in their futile efforts—with Congress’s consent— to militarily control the Middle East and its oil and gas all under the guise of an elusive war on “terror.”
Obama and Congress, who also allowed NATO’s invasion of Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, have made overtones at also invading Iran, Syria, and certain countries in Africa. And now are supporting a rightist new government in Ukraine in a challenge to Russia, and may send troops to support NATO’s Ukraine efforts. Who knows when or if Washington might approve military action in those areas without declaring war, and include our National Guards in the effort.
Coleman says, if elected Arkansas’s governor, he’ll challenge any effort by the president, whoever it is, to send the Arkansas National Guard into foreign lands and into an undeclared war. He bases his stance on a document both our recent presidents and Congress seem to ignore: the United States Constitution.
On his website, candidate Coleman provides his stance on policies, one of which is titled “Caring for Arkansas’ Military Service Members and Veterans.” Since he’s a Republican, you’d expect him to support caring for military veterans, and to seek tax exemptions for employers who hire them. And he does.
But the first sentence of his care for military members is the surprising uppercut that led to this column:
I will be a governor who, to the extent of my constitutional and legal authority, will resist the federalization of our Arkansas National Guard by repeated deployments to military engagements in which Congress has not issued a declaration of war according to the Constitution.
So, what does the U.S. Constitution say about declaration of war. We’ve looked at this question in earlier columns, and it’s pretty simple.
The Constitution and War Powers
Here’s the reality: Within the borders of the U.S., neither political rhetoric — including President Obama making our actions in Libya and toward Ukraine “very clear” — nor United Nations documents, nor Congressional resolutions, nor the bible or any other religious publication take precedence over the U.S. Constitution in designating who has the power to make and end war.
The Constitution states clearly and simply in Article 1, Section 8:
That’s the only paragraph that speaks specifically to war.
The article also provides Congress with powers “to raise and support armies…to provide and maintain a navy; to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and to “provide for calling forth the militia,” which we would call the National Guard. The Constitution’s Article 2, Section 2 states, “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.” The “calling” is left up to Congress, not the president.
That’s it. Nowhere in the executive powers article does it say the president has the right to declare or wage war at his own will and in his own way.
The president, as commander in chief, should execute not his own will, but the will of Congress, and therefore more closely the will of the American people.
Presidents, including our present one, have usurped that will and power, usually from a weak-kneed Congress.
One such Congress, following Vietnam, felt a political need to “clarify” the roles of the two branches regarding war-making powers. The result was the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The resolution stresses that the president can only send forces into hostile action in one of three ways: (1) Congress’s declaration of war; (2) “specific statutory authorization,” meaning Congress must pass a law allowing the hostile action; or (3) “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
The Congress, in 1973, showed its weakness in later paragraphs, where the resolution does give in, wordily allowing the president to initiate hostile action if he quickly reports back to Congress, justifying the action’s legality.
The problem is, Congress does not have the Constitutional right to abdicate its power to declare and wage war to the executive branch. That would take a Constitutional amendment. But this 1973 resolution basically does that.
This 1973 Congressional resolution was also the primary document cited by President Bush’s deputy counsel, John C. Yoo, in his Sept. 25, 2001 memorandum opinion on the president’s having “broad constitutional power to use military force.” But Yoo’s word isn’t law. It’s only a biased opinion within the then-Bush administration.
Congress also cited the 1973 document in its 2002 resolution allowing the president to send American forces into Iraq. But that 2002 resolution is simply Congress ignoring the Constitution.
Gubernatorial candidate Coleman, in effect, is challenging this entire process. He’s saying the governor, as the state’s chief executive, has the state constitutional right to oppose “federalization of our Arkansas National Guard” in undeclared wars.
Coleman has another ace to play in his case. It was World War II’s greatest war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned us about the growing military-industrial complex. He did it in his farewell address as our nation’s president. He also was a Republican, which Coleman can call on for any within his party who oppose his stance.
Some of Coleman’s other positions are troublesome to any voters outside conservative Republicans and those on the religious right. For example, he opposes gay marriage for religious reasons. He says:
God instituted and defined marriage as between a man and a woman before He instituted government. Government has no authority to re-define an institution that pre-dated it.
That’s a concern for more than a stance on marriage. He’s basically saying that religious law supersedes constitutional law, in essence the political philosophy of radical Islamists who believe that Sharia law supersedes a country’s constitution—a pet peeve of conservative Republicans. It’s one of the contradictions conservatives have yet to admit and deal with. And that’s a problem for Coleman if he—on the one hand is defending the Constitution, and on the other hand is trying to supersede it.
But his stance regarding the National Guard and undeclared war is a courageous one. It could be exciting to see if Coleman’s effort picks up any steam. Neither his Republican opponent nor either Democratic gubernatorial candidate have touched this issue, except seeming to support the military unquestionably.
If Coleman’s able to set himself apart from his opponents by pushing this issue, and is able to pull off a win as an underdog, his National Guard stance just might have powerful legs. Politicians go with what they see work. And if other Republican governors, and there are a lot of them, see Coleman’s defense of the Guard and the Constitution develop staying power, they just might jump on board. That could lead to a real confrontation of states’ rights versus federal-government power—which was at the basis of the forming of our Declaration of Independence and eventually our national Constitution.