January 30, 2007
The Little Generals - 535 of Them
In a burst of audacity and ingenuity that one wishes were aimed at America's enemies instead of the president, congressional Democrats now assert the sweeping authority to be co-Commanders in Chief; and in the case of one constitutional-law "expert," to dictate strategic and tactical military policy to the president, who in this scenario must simply salute and say "Yes sir."
This goes far beyond what they did during their successful effort to turn the Vietnam victory into defeat; in that shameful episode, Congress merely utilized the power of the purse, which everyone (even George W. Bush) agrees they have. Nay, one must go all the way back to the Civil War, when Congress routinely issued marching and battle orders to Union generals, to find a comparable moment of hubris in congressional history.
The first shot across the bow comes from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA, 63%), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee began laying the constitutional groundwork today for an effort to block President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq and place new limits on the conduct of the war there, perhaps forcing a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
They were joined by Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led the panel for the last two years, in asserting that Mr. Bush cannot simply ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.
“I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole decider,” Mr. Specter said. “The decider is a joint and shared responsibility.”
Back a few days ago, in our previous post None Dare Call It Cowardice, I pegged Specter as likely to join the efforts to seize command of the military away from the president:
[T]he only other Republican senator who scores lower than the top of this liberal group (Voinovich, 68%) is Sen. Arlen Specter (PA, 63%)...
(In this case, I based my semi-prediction not only on Specter's liberalness but also upon his vanity and tendency to preen before an audience.)
But what exactly is Specter saying here? Nobody denies that Congress is the "decider" when it comes to funding the military; the president's power is entirely negative: he can veto the funding legislation. And Bush's "decider" remark -- actually, he said "decision maker" in the most recent incarnation -- was very clear about what he was deciding: he said he was the decision-maker about implementing the plan, not funding it.
Thus, when Specter says “The decider is a joint and shared responsibility," he is literally saying that Congress has as much say as the Commander in Chief over determining the rules of engagement, repositioning the troops within Iraq, and sending U.S. forces from point A to point B. If Congress had any role at all in those types of decisions, it was whether to authorize the use of military force in the first place... which they did in 2002, with no time limit and no restrictions about exactly how they could be used in the upcoming war (though such restrictions would probably have been unconstitutional anyway).
Specter is not unaware of the enormity he's trying to pull off; he knows this is not our traditional understanding of the relationship between the branches... he is very much aware that he is trying to seize the most important power of a republic, the strategic and tactical specifics of waging war, away from the president and into Congress:
Mr. Specter said he considered a clash over constitutional powers to be “imminent.”
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%) is behaving more honorably than Specter: he is brazenly trying to cut off all funding for the war, which is at least a bona-fide congressional power. But even he is drunk on Congressional power, at the expense of the presidency, that goes beyond unseemly to the realm of the imperial:
Senator Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who acted as chairman for the hearing, said he would soon introduce a resolution that would go much further. It would end all financing for the deployment of American military forces in Iraq after six months, other than a limited number working on counterterrorism operations or training the Iraqi army and police. In effect, it would call for all other American forces to be withdrawn by the six-month deadline.
“Since the President is adamant about pursuing his failed policy in Iraq, Congress has a duty to stand up and prevent him,” Mr. Feingold said.
Mr. Feingold was joined by only two other Democrats at the hearing, Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, perhaps reflecting the wariness in the party’s caucus about any direct attempt to thwart the president’s strategy.
When did they inherit this duty? I see nothing in the Constitution to justify it: Congress has these powers anent war:
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
To provide and maintain a navy;
To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.
By contrast, the president has the following powers:
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.
I don't want to judge before all the facts are in, but I'd have to say that being "commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" trumps any congressional wartime power on the narrow issue of who gets to move around the pieces on the chessboard.
It's important to realize that not all Republicans are involved in trying to sabotage our efforts in Iraq; so far, the effort is still limited to a subset of the group we listed in None Dare Call It Cowardice:
- Sam Brownback (KS, 100%)
- Susan Collins (ME, 32%)
- Olympia Snowe (ME, 32%)
- Norm Coleman (MN, 64%)
- Chuck Hagel (NE, 96%)
- George Voinovich (OH, 68%)
- Gordon Smith (OR, 58%)
- John Warner (VA, 88%)
Not even Specter has come out and said he will support the Warner "Surrender Slow" resolution; and Hagel was the only Republican to support the Biden-Hagel "Surrender Swift" resolution. At the moment, the only GOP supporters of Surrender Slow, according to Daily Kos, are Hagel, Collins, Smith, Coleman, and Warner.
But Specter and Feingold have come as close as one could imagine to coming right out and saying that Congress, not the president, is the "decider":
Mr. Specter read the results of a survey of service members conducted by The Military Times, which found that only 35 percent of respondents approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war. The senator suggested that in that light, the military might be “appreciative of questions being raised by Congress.” [Yes, I'm quite sure the military appreciates being told they're on a fool's errand and are destined to be defeated by the terrorists.]
Mr. Feingold insisted that his resolution would “not hurt our troops in any way” because they would all continue to be paid, supplied, equipped and trained as usual -- just not in Iraq.
I'm quite certain that Feingold is blissfully ignorant of how offensive this comment really is to servicemen and servicewomen: he sees our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as nothing more than contractors whose only concern is that they get paid; Sen. Feingold is unequipped by nature to understand how important is the mission itself, success and victory, to the military.
The most breathtaking power-grab came not from a senator but from an "expert" in constitutional law. (And let's all guess which side called him to testify!) If this doesn't make your mouth gape, you have no astonishment left in you:
Other experts testifying at the hearing said that Congress had the power not only to declare war, but to make major strategic and policy decisions about its conduct. Louis Fisher, a specialist in constitutional law for the Library of Congress, said, “I don’t know of any ground for a belief that the president has any more special expertise in whether to continue a war than do the members of Congress.”
He said that the title of “commander in chief” was meant by the framers to emphasize unity of command and civilian control over the military. “The same duty commanders have to the president, the president has to the elected representatives.”
"The same duty" would be the duty to obey orders, no matter what he thinks of them. I'm virtually certain that Mr. Fisher was called by Russell Feingold (who served as acting chair for Sen. Pat Leahy, D-VT, 100% during this hearing). But I wonder whether Arlen Specter didn't have at least the faint trace of a Cheshire-Cat smile on his lips, as he envisioned future Congresses issuing marching orders to future Subcommanders in Subchief. (And by the way... when did the president cease being considered an "elected representative?")
Naturally, the subject slopped over from Iraq to Iran; the Democrats simply couldn't contain themselves, any more than a monkey can stop itself from dropping one handful of nuts to grab another:
Even as the panel discussed issues from past conflicts, Senator Kennedy used the session to focus on a possible future conflict, asking the panel about what authority Mr. Bush would have to attack Iran. The panel’s members agreed that he had the power to take what actions he saw fit to deal with any short-term threat that Iran might pose to American troops in Iraq, but that he would need some form of Congressional authorization to begin any large-scale or long-term conflict.
(Of course, under the War Powers Act, President Bush has even more power than that: he can attack Iran, so long as the entire engagement lasts 60 days or less; then he has to report to Congress. This means that the "Herman Option" is easily within the authority of the president to order without bothering to gain permission from (or even consult) Arlen Specter, Russell Feingold, or Nancy Pelosi. Or Nancy Sinatra, for that matter.)
Sticking with Iran, the Democrats also harangued the president on his refusal to kowtow to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the Baker-Hamilton ISG report recommended:
Republican and Democratic senators warned Tuesday against a drift toward war with an emboldened Iran and suggested the Bush administration was missing a chance to engage its longtime adversary in potentially helpful talks over next-door Iraq.
"What I think many of us are concerned about is that we stumble into active hostilities with Iran without having aggressively pursued diplomatic approaches, without the American people understanding exactly what's taking place," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told John Negroponte, who is in line to become the nation's No. 2 diplomat as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy.
It's hard not to laugh at the spectacle of Barack Obama (100%) -- a fellow who has served as a U.S. senator for two whole years -- lecturing John Negroponte, a man who has spent his entire adult life, since before Obama was even born, working his way up the State Department's ladder of responsibility (except for the two years he served as the first Director of National Intelligence) on the basics of diplomacy and negotiation. I wonder... did Obama tap his head during this speech, as if urging Negroponte to think it through?
At least in this case, so far no Republican has hurled himself against the barracades, bringing about the very intervention by Iran that he professes to be trying to stop. This time, even GOP mavericks wisely left that job to the Democrats, who have more experience at anti-Americanism. This is the absolute juiciest that AP can muster:
Senators including Hagel, George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., sounded frustrated with the administration's decision not to engage Iran and fellow outcast Syria in efforts to reduce sectarian violence in Iraq.
Even so, we appear, as in the 1860s, to have 535 spare generals on Capitol Hill, each of them having his headquarters in his congressional seat. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln (R-IL, 100%), they appear to have their headquarters where their hindquarters ought to be.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 30, 2007, at the time of 8:54 PM
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Tracked on February 2, 2007 5:34 AM
The following hissed in response by: ShoreMark
Susan Collins (ME, 32%) Olympia Snowe (ME, 32%)
RINO is not sufficiently descriptive of those two. I don't understand why they haven't switched parties by now? Is it because the NRSC still sends them money?
The following hissed in response by: Tomy
More good news!
WASHINGTON — James Baker, the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, on Tuesday endorsed President Bush's troop surge in Iraq, urging the Senate to "give it a chance."
"The president's plan ought to be given a chance," Baker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Just give it a chance."
With Baker's endorsement, opponents of non-binding resolutions may have new ammunition to argue against the Senate sending any signal of opposition to the new plan.
Maybe this is a wake-up call to the resolution seekers to Stop Being Stupid
The following hissed in response by: Terrye
One would think it would dawn on the Senate that there are 100 of them and they can not even come up with comprehensive immigration reform without it turning into a brawl, what are the chances they could run a war? They would be too busy fighting each other to bother with the enemy.
If one looks at our own history it is obvious that the Continental Congress tried and failed at something like this. That is why we have a Commander in Chief, the first was the man they called His Excellency George Washington.
The above hissed in response by: Terrye at January 31, 2007 3:17 AM
The following hissed in response by: jhstuart
Technically, it is the 'gang of 535'. Also, where is Maggie Thatcher when someone is needed to 'stiffen the spines' of Congress?
The following hissed in response by: charlotte
It’s starting to look as if Ahmadmannonads was right. Not only is there a hidden Twelfth Imam ready to take us down for the Caliphate, he’s in the well of the US Senate.
The following hissed in response by: hunter
We are defeating ourselves.
I am ashamed to be an American.
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
Whoops, you're right: 535, not 435. I made the correction.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at January 31, 2007 8:35 AM
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