May 25, 2013
War Is Too Tragic for Weak Balance of Powers
Posted on Feb 26, 2012
By Dina Rasor, Truthout
This piece originally appeared at Truthout.
[In early February] I wrote a column on how President Obama, as with some presidents in the past, fired military generals who tried to end run his civilian authority in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is just one of the areas where our Constitution chose to spread around the responsibility for waging war to two branches of government and to keep the war-making decisions in the hands of government civilians.
As much as I am glad that some of our former presidents fought to keep the generals from pushing them into war decisions through intemperate leaks of misinformation to the media, I can also see presidents and the executive branch have been leaching away the power to declare war from the Congress. The last time the Congress used their full constitutional power to declare war was World War II. After that, war or “armed conflict” got messier and more complicated, and the Congress allowed presidents to take more of their power away in Korea and Vietnam instead of finding ways to adapt to the new world and still keep their very exclusive power to declare war.
Some of these presidents have purposely misled Congress before and after the Congress, disturbed by the overreach of presidents in the Vietnam “conflict,” passed the War Powers Act in 1973 overriding President Nixon’s veto. This law was an attempt by Congress to insert some control of when we go to war, but also continued to grant the president part of their power to say when we go to war. The Congressional Research Service recently issued a report on the issues of the War Powers Act and they describe the power of the act as it was intended when it was passed:
Note the last two paragraphs above where “every President has taken the position that it is an unconstitutional infringement by the Congress on the President’s authority as Commander in Chief” and “The courts have not directly addressed this question.”
Between decades of legal murkiness and the increasingly complex and fast-moving conflicts around the world, the power for Congress to declare war is nothing like our founders envisioned when they fashioned the Constitution in past times of slow-moving communications and large wars between nations. The legal mess is a huge impediment to putting the powers back into balance, but I would like to illustrate just how damaging it can be to this country not to have the Congress insert their constitutional powers.
Many people know that Daniel Ellsberg was responsible, in the late 1960s, for leaking a highly classified history of the emergence of the Vietnam War, known as the Pentagon Papers, that showed the lies and misleading facts used by past presidents to justify the war. He almost went to jail for life to expose these deceits to the American public. But what many don’t know is that he was involved in the same deceptions at the very beginning of the Vietnam War while working at the Pentagon.
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