FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Non-Representative War Government

“The success of government…,” the late historian Edmund Morgan wrote, “requires the acceptance of fictions, requires the willing suspension of disbelief, requires us to believe that the emperor is clothed even though we can see that he is not.”

Representation is chief among those fictions.

“Just as the exaltation of the king could be a means of controlling him,” Morgan continued, “so the exaltation of the people can be a means of controlling them…. If the representative consented, his constituents had to make believe that they had done so.”

Questioning the authenticity of representative government may seem beyond the pale in America. But occasionally the veil slips, and we glimpse reality. If we really live under a representative government, how can a president take the country to war without even a show vote in Congress, much less a referendum? (The proposed Ludlow Amendment to the Constitution would have required a referendum on war.)

Barack Obama has announced he is sending special operations forces into Syria to help those fighting both the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, just as last year he ordered airstrikes in Syria. He previously said he would not send ground forces, but you can forget about that now. After a Delta Force soldier was killed there while on a raid last month, Secretary of War Ash Carter acknowledged that Americans will be at risk. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said, “The norm is not going out in raids. I’m obviously not going to rule anything out.”

Note well: the U.S. Congress has not declared war on Syria (nor should it), so Obama’s moves are unconstitutional and illegal. Last year Obama asked Congress for an “authorization for the use of military force” (AUMF) — it went nowhere and is going nowhere — while insisting he did not need it. The administration (echoing George W. Bush) says any president has the inherent power under the Constitution to do what he’s doing in Syria. (Compare with candidate Obama.) The administration first suggested the AUMFs of 2001 and 2002 were sufficient, but that claim was demolished (though Obama sticks to it). The 2001 AUMF said Bush could attack al-Qaeda and its associates. Neither Assad nor the Islamic State qualifies: al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al-Nusra Front, is also trying to overthrow Assad, and the Islamic State emerged from a split in al-Qaeda. The 2002 AUMF was aimed at Iraqi president Saddam Hussein — it could hardly apply to Syria.

More fundamentally, an AUMF is not a declaration of war; it’s a blank-check, unconstitutional delegation of power from Congress to a president. Consider the 2002 AUMF. As I wrote back then:

The resolution would authorize Mr. Bush to “use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to 1) defend the national security interests of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and 2) to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.” The key phrase is “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” It would be consistent with the resolution for Mr. Bush to decide that it was neither necessary nor appropriate to use force against Iraq at all.

In other words, the Congress is not declaring that a state of war exists between Iraq and the United States. On the contrary, the President will decide when and if a state of war exists. The resolution requires only that he “certify” that diplomatic efforts have failed before he uses force. Indeed, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt confirmed that Congress will not be declaring war when he said, “we should deal with it [the Iraqi problem] diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must. And I think this resolution does that.”

Orwellian war-denial is nothing new for the Obama administration. Obama refused to call the 2011 regime-changing air campaign in Libya a war; thus he dismissed the War Powers Resolution as irrelevant. (That 1973 measure was Congress’s feeble attempt to rein in de facto presidential power to make war and rectify the constitutional usurpation that began with Harry Truman’s “police action” in Korea in 1950.)

Going to war is the most consequential step a government can take. If the people have nothing to say about war ex ante, the government can hardly be described as representative.

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail