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Congress Ignores Its Responsibilities

Monday, 21 Jul 2008 10:01 AM

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“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys”. — P.J. O'Rourke

Wonks and pundits are all a dither over the Miller Center’s National War Powers Commission.

Two former secretary of state types (one each Democrat and Republican) have recommended the repeal of the War Power’s Act of 1973. They aim to replace it with an entertaining fiction that would supposedly have “more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on matters of war.”

Retired Major Gen. Paul E. Vallely wrote a very good refutation of the Baker/Christopher fantasy recently http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/13/vallely-what-should-be-done-with-the-war-powers-ac/.

Vallely observed the Foggy Bottom gray beards, “agree not to disagree and clearly avoids giving the necessary power to the executive branch and the president, who is the commander in chief.”

Although I agree with most of the general’s observations, the challenge to "war powers" is (and has been) systemically dysfunctional. Territorial imperatives, ego, and partisan rancor all conspire to obfuscate, delay, and generally muck up the decision making process.

Consultation, advice, counsel, debate and analysis are all good and valuable tools and necessary to maintaining the thinly remaining vestiges of the republic. However, leaders need to be able to lead without consensus … in the interest of national security.

Surprise, firepower and violence of action are requisite tools for warfare. In order to meet and overcome a threat before it reaches critical mass it is imperative that the guy with the big stick gets to wield it without the constraints suggested by the Miller Center’s brain trust.

The commission claims the War Powers Act of 1973 is “ineffective and impractical.” However, the War Powers Act was created by Congress because they lacked the courage and accountability the Constitution requires of them.

A gutless Congress has consistently avoided their constitutional responsibility for declaring war. Instead, through a variety of mechanisms, for over 50 years they have chosen to sluff off the hard decisions to the executive branch while maintaining for themselves the presumed right to itch and moan and cheap shot anything that doesn’t turn out they way they would have wanted it to, if they had maintained the authority and responsibility for declaring war.

Congress wants it both ways … and they have had it.

As Vallely observes, “The commission concluded that the War Powers Act has failed to promote cooperation between the two branches of government and recommended that Congress pass a new statute — the War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 — that would establish a clear process on decisions to go to war.” Bullfeathers!

The War Powers Act, in and of itself, hasn’t done jack-spit to promote or avert “cooperation between the two branches of government.” Besides which, it should not (and cannot) be the function of any act to compel or mandate “cooperation.”

Cooperation between branches of government should be function of grown ups embracing their Constitutional responsibly and their oaths of office and is not enabled by the counterintuitive acrimonious petty partisan bilge that permeates the contemporary process.

The fantasmical War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 assumes (or makes believe) a whole bunch of facts simply not in evidence.

It requires the president to consult Congress before deploying U.S. troops into "significant armed conflict" — apparently combat operations lasting, or expected to last, more than a week. Huh!?!?

Just how is any commander in chief or any war planner of any rank or service supposed to predict how long an armed conflict will last? “No plan survives first contact” is an axiom.

Beyond the Vallely observation about the impossibility of quantifying what is or isn’t “significant,” stuff happens and things change rapidly in war.

If a president can parse the definition of the word “is,” the mind boggles at the prospect of Congress attempting to quantify and define what is or isn’t “significant.”

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, and yet, Baker/Christopher and their brigade of lawyers want to create a new Joint Congressional Consultation Committee.

They want to manufacture a bipartisan staff with access to national security and intelligence information? The inability of certain Congress critters to keep their pie holes shut on security matters creates inevitable consequences. One obvious consequence of leaked secret stuff is that the constitutional responsibility of advice, consent and oversight is undermined big time. Let’s remember the "Leaky Leahy" abuse of intelligence data that got men killed.

The requirement for a yes or no vote to continued “significant armed conflicts” within 30 days is just plain brain flatulence of epic proportions.

The War Powers Act is flawed. Sure, it was not well crafted and was an impulsive legislative response to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. However, the complex and detailed planning of offensive and defensive military action is demanding enough without adding more layers of burdensome consultation, staff processes and ponderous obfuscating bureaucracy.

Vallely concludes his piece, “We need a process that expedites the power sharing of our executive and legislative branches and streamlines the decision-making and support actions required to commit our armed forces to all spectrums of conflict.”

Lead, follow, or get out of the way! Congress (and the Miller commission) has demonstrated they cannot lead, won’t follow and seem incapable of getting out of the way.

That is a recipe for disaster.

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