Thursday, February 19, 2015

Proactive Perpetual War

I tend to be proactive, planning things in advance. It wasn’t always so. In high school I’d wait until the last possible moment to complete assignments – procrastination became part of how I got through the first couple of years. A teacher called me out on why he thought I procrastinates. He pointed out that since I wait until the last minute if I only get a C I can always blame it on the lack of time, but if I was proactive and still had a C then that would mean I had more work to do. So I embraced the inevitability of my being a mediocre a student and began doing things in advance of deadlines.  I'm not sure that was the teacher's intended result! Washington DC is not known for being forward thinking, but the past few weeks show that the U.S. Government has now carefully planned for perpetual war.

The U.S. Constitution outlines how War is to be declared. Article 1, Section 8 outlines all of the “do’s” and “don’ts” that govern the Republic. Congress is empowered to declare war. It last did so on June 5, 1942.  Congress provided military intervention/support in a variety of locations based on a United Nations declaration or on an Authorization for use of Military Force (AUMF). Seeking to limit the President’s ability to use military force without Congressional approval, in 1973 the War Powers Resolution was passed with a 2/3rds majority in both the House and the Senate – overriding a Presidential Veto. It became law, though it contravened the constitution and gave away key responsibilities of the legislature.

The constitutionality of the Act has been questioned from the outset. Rather than amending the Constitution this Resolution simply attempts to replace and refine one part of it. That argument is long past and philosophically still important to have – but in practical terms both Congress and Presidents for over 40 years have adhered to the tenets of the Resolution, so it is framework that the country has operated within. The Act requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war.

President Obama has embraced his role as Commander in Chief by deploying the military in numerous situations. Africa, Syria and  Afghanistan are just the most newsworthy. While military personnel in Iraq diminished to nearly zero, tens of thousands of military advisors are back flooding into the country. In 2012 The Guardian analyzed where the military were situated and while the countries varied from when he took office in 2008 the totals did not. 


For all of those deployments the President has cited the War Powers Resolution and President Bush (43)’s 2001/2002 AUMFs against Al-Queda, Iraq and other terrorists. Relying on the open-ended Bush era authorizations President Obama has not always fulfilled the notification requirements of the 1973 Resolution. In fact, President Obama in six years of being in the Oval Office has only asked for Congressional authorization to use the miliary oncelast week.  On 2/11/2015 the Obama administration asked for a new AUMF – one purportedly more narrow, but many have interpreted it to be a much broader authorization. The need for a new authorization is to clarify but not replace the 2001/2002 authorizations, though it is assumed that the older ones would then be rescinded when the new one is approved.

Much of the U.S. (and indeed the world) economy is framed around the military industrial complex. Total world spending on military expenses in 2009 was $1.531 trillion US dollars. 46.5% of this total was spent by the United States. In 2015 the figures are significantly higher.

Why is an AMUF needed now? Could it be that there is an economic imperative to keep the economy on a war footing and insure that the Military Industrial Complex remains active? Cynicism would answer with a resounding aye. Never mind the sentence right after the war designation:  "...To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two years."  It's no small irony that Congress continues to fund "wars" (military actions) it hasn't declared far in excess of the two year threshold in the Constitution.

There is a provision in the proposed AMUF which has the authorization expire in three years – right when a new President takes place. The anti-war candidate who became the 44th President is proposing a structure to permit himself the ability to take unilateral military action against any “terrorist” while allowing the authorization to expire as his successor takes office. Could it be that Barak Obama is thinking of his legacy? With an expiration of the AMUF he could to claim that his campaign promise to end wars was fulfilled including the end of military force. The Authorization would allow him to continue as he has been: the President who starts and ends wars on his own.

The Constitution outlines how war is to be declared and funded. There is no reason – logistical or political – where the letter of the law and the spirit of the law couldn’t be fulfilled. There’s no need even for the War Powers Act. Congress should rescind any and all military authorizations that are in place today, not approve any others and insist that the Executive Branch ask Congress for authorization each and every time war is embarked on. If the President believes that War is vital and necessary it is up to him to make the case to the American people and their representatives who can then vote for or against war. As it stands now the U.S. is headed on a perpetual war footing.

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