The United States has formally declared war five times in its two and a quarter century lifetime. The last time was against the Axis powers in World War II. So since 1945, the United States has known a world utterly free of the pains of war.
How can this be so? Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that Congress is the only branch of government with the power to declare war. It was quite purposefully vested in the body of government that is the slowest in making decisions. The main reasoning being to not have a single person with the power to send its citizenry to die without provocation or reason. They had had enough of that with the royalty of Great Britain.
Again the question, how could we have been involved in so many conflicts without declaring war? The answer is right there: we were in conflicts, not wars. Well, at least, that was so often the designation. Or ‘police actions’. It is quite a trick in order to combat an abstraction, not another state. We fought communism, not the Viet Kong. We are fighting terrorism, not the Iraqis. Of course, we did not defeat communism; it just happened to fail in the Soviet Union. And it sure seems that we aren’t looking to defeat terrorism anytime soon, since it gets so constantly stoked and provoked. Besides, it is not something that is defeatable; it is simply a tactic. But I digress.
Most of these undeclared wars came about due to one thing: fear. More specifically, paranoia. America after the Second World War followed a foreign policy of containment against communism. It was particularly strengthened by the fall of China to communism in 1949, playing into the idea of the ‘domino effect’. The fear of communism spreading aided in creating and maintaining the idea of containing communism to its current borders, effectively drawing us into every local nationalist conflict that decided to support itself with Soviet funds.
Also with the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States Congress started vesting increasing emergency powers to the President, so he may react more swiftly than they in the event of a direct attack by the opposing powers in the East. It means that the President could effectively send troops anywhere deemed insecure for democracy/capitalism/our interests, and from there escalate or surge (we’ve heard those words before, no?) as deemed necessary.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 set into place a set of rules regarding how far a President could go with this new-found power. Apparently Congress realized that a certain cap should be in place after being in Vietnam for over eight wildly successful years. What it amounted to was that the President could act freely for 60 days before Congress would decide whether or not to continue or end US troop involvement, with an additional 30 days while Congress convenes and debates.
The President of the United States, a single person, has been given control of the most powerful military in the world for any three month period without question. What an American ideal! I am so glad that our country was not founded under the philosophies against arbitrary rule by one person. Otherwise we would be running counter to the very wisdom of the brilliant men who helped create a new, working model of free democracy that would inspire people the world over for centuries.
To bring my whole convoluted post to a close, let us return to the present. With the rubber stamps being pushed out of power in Congress, debate has returned to whether or not to continue the war in Iraq and how to end it. But the past half-decade’s rhetoric has punctured the powers of Congressional and even societal debate. The idea of cinching the military’s purse strings has been termed ‘not supporting our troops’. This is a damning phrase now, but hopefully one that will die. Of course troops are supported, we will always support them, because we won’t have them return home the way Vietnam veterans had to for just following orders. In fact, I hope they return home seen even more differently: as tragic heroes put through hell for other peoples’ cruel, cruel lies.
Here is my point, pure and simple. Congress is doing its job. The War Powers Resolution, and indeed any and all Presidential actions using American forces without a direct declaration of war, or invocation of Article V of NATO, is illegal and unconstitutional. I am willing to grant certain powers to extricate American and ally citizens from direct assaults. Once they are out and safe, our troop involvement ceases, because no war has been declared.
The title of Commander in Chief is meant to be only the unifying apex of all the military branches. The President commands the Army and the Navy in battle only. It is Congress, and Congress alone, that raises, organizes, arms, and keeps American military power. Congress creates treaties and declares war. It is within the powers of Congress to decide whether or not and where to send the American military, and when they are done operating. Commander in Chief only directs the forces when they are sent to engage the enemy, and even that power really gets delegated down (ie Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and the Generals and Admirals, and even filtered on down the way it is supposed to be structured.) Congress essentially owns the military; the President only gets to operate it when Congress allows.
We are a lawful people. It is all we have. There is no state religion, nor royal family. We govern ourselves, and our laws are our agreements among free people. To break our laws is to make an offense to our land and fellow citizens. We fine their riches and imprison the offenders, taking away part of that which is most precious to all people: their limited time on this earth. The President has broken the law, and it is the fault of Congress for allowing it to happen. Congress must reassert its true place as the most powerful branch of the government, because it controls the money, and it represents the people most directly.
And I do hope we the people of the United States realize this. Our troops need to be brought home. Ask any of them what the better way to support them is: keeping them as the primary targets in the middle of a civil war fueled by religions fervor, or bringing them home to their families?