Foreign Policy

The Imperial President at War

Barack Obama continues the long, shameful trend of expanding executive power

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After the 2008 election, Barack Obama was pondering the growth of presidential power. So, ABC News reported, he met with former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher "about how to achieve more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on the use of military force." Yes, he did. Then he went home and laughed till his ribs hurt.

Today, we know Obama's idea of "meaningful consultation" with Congress on such matters: First, he goes to war, and then he makes a rude gesture in the direction of Capitol Hill. Consult this, Boehner!

In this hypocrisy, I should note, he is indistinguishable from most of his former colleagues in Congress. When their party occupies the White House, they defend the president's absolute right to invade, bomb, or strafe any country on Earth. When the other party is in power, they whine and grouse, while doing nothing to impede him.

It's hard to decide which party is more unfaithful to its own principles. Obama, of course, said in 2008 that the president "does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Last month, he blithely exercised that nonexistent power.

Democrats were largely responsible for the 1973 War Powers Act, which says that when the president sends U.S. forces into battle, he must get approval from Congress within 60 days or bring them home. It is a modest requirement that Obama evidently plans to ignore.

In a recent meeting with members of Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if the administration would respect the 60-day deadline, and she repeatedly dodged the question. When it was asked of Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, he said, "It's a question that cannot be answered in the abstract." Translation: Make me.

Republicans, meanwhile, have acquired a strange new respect for the notion that there are limits to the president's use of military force. This is a sentiment that surfaces in the GOP only when a Democrat becomes president.

It was Republican Richard Nixon, after all, who vetoed the War Powers Act, only to be overridden by Congress. When he sent troops into Lebanon, Ronald Reagan balked at complying.

Then there was George W. Bush, whose legal advisers insisted that the president has virtually unlimited authority in this realm. He requested congressional authorization for the Iraq war while insisting the Constitution gave him the right to invade on his own.

But after losing an election, the GOP takes a less expansive view. When President Clinton bombed Serbia in the 1999 Kosovo war, a group of mostly Republican members of Congress filed a lawsuit to make him end the war within 60 days, as mandated by the War Powers Act. (The courts threw it out.)

The bombing of Libya revived this desire to restrict White House discretion. Ten Republican senators voted for a resolution saying Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority.

You would think conservatives on Capitol Hill would be the most vocal opponents of letting the president make war anytime he wants. They believe judges should interpret the Constitution according to the intent of the framers, and the framers were not champions of the imperial presidency, particularly when it came to military matters.

It's been argued that Congress gets to decide only whether to "declare" war, an empty formality. But Abraham Sofaer, the top State Department lawyer under Reagan, wrote that nothing in the text "signifies an intent to allow the president a general authority to 'make' war in the absence of a declaration."

Those who drafted the Constitution "regarded war and peace as being as much, if not more, a legislative responsibility as an executive one," writes Jack Rakove of Stanford University, author of a history of the Constitutional Convention. "Nothing was left to prerogative but the president's implicit power 'to repel sudden attacks.'"

Save it for the faculty club, professor. In Washington, nobody cares. Today, war is at the sole whim of whoever sits in the Oval Office. One president after another has bulldozed the fences confining him, and each time, legislators have cheered him on or let him get away with it.

The result is that the Constitution's limits on the president have become a quaint irrelevance. Congress may not know much about the constitutional division of war powers, but it knows how to surrender.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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56 responses to “The Imperial President at War

  1. Like adding those idiots in Congress into the decision making mix is an improvement. Everyone in the capital always wants to go to war. The only reason anyone ever votes (when given the opportunity) in opposition is when they want to be dicks to the other party.

    1. Yes, but at least an AUMF/formal declaration requires them to go on record. Gives a hint of accountability to those of us who might toss them from office later.

      1. Might is the controlling word there.

  2. Congress is a bunch of spineless cowards. They don’t want to do ANYTHING that might negatively affect their polls, so you get the Fed in charge of money supply (so they can say “Inflation isn’t our fault!”), they let the President declare and carry out wars without their approval/input, they’re never going to do anything to stand in the way of power grabs in politically volatile arenas.

    1. The problem is that Congress is never held responsible for anything even though they hold all of the power. Think about it, no one ever held Congress responsible for 9-11 even though it was Congress that created funded and have oversight responsibility for the agencies that failed. The call Iraq “Bush’s war” even though Congress approved it and funded it for years. No one ever blames Congress for FANNIE and FREDDIE even thought Congress created them. No one ever blames Congress for the financial collapse even though Congress created the laws and the regulation that caused it.

      You get the idea. Obama should go to Congress for authorization. But, he doesn’t have to because Congress is too lazy and degenerate to assert its authority.

      1. I sort of agree, but re:9/11, an attack on the US is the executive’s baby. They are the ones in charge of the day to day running of the nation.

        1. True. But when the succcessful attack is the result of a systematic failure like 9-11, the people who created the system, Congress, bear some responsibility.

          1. I dunno, seems like there were several opportunities for the executive to have stopped it before it happened even under the admittedly imperfect system.

            1. Clearly, the solution is to keep hiring and paying Gorelick millions upon millions of dollars.

      2. It’s easier to direct emotions like love and hatred toward a person rather than an institution or group (see 1984)

    2. What do you think you are going to get? These assholes are elected by people with an average IQ of 100!
      When everybody can vote everybody loses.

  3. legal advisers insisted that the president has virtually unlimited authority in this realm. He requested congressional authorization for the Iraq war while insisting the Constitution gave him the right to invade on his own.

    Both the R and D’s do it, and whatever future third party will do it too-including Libertarians

  4. But it’s totally diferent because one is spelled I-R-A-Q and the other is spelled L-I-B-Y-A. QED!

    1. Remember the other day how someone was bitching I was beating a strawman in saying Obama’s detractors were trying to equate Iraq and Libya?

      Dudes, in dealing with many posters here there is no strawman that isn’t propped up and urged to walk sometimes.

  5. Obama’s failure to go to Congress for authorization was bad, but he compounded it by not even engaging in any meaningful informing of them after the fact. To make matters worse he took his sweet time coming to the American people to explain himself. He acted every bit the aloof, elitist President-knows-best image that he is oft criticized for.

    1. I just love it when he jauntily trots up the steps!

    2. He acted every bit the aloof, elitist President-knows-best image that he is oft criticized for.

      This is so different from Obama the candidate it is easy to see why people are surprised.

  6. Where have all the war protesters gone?

    1. Regrouping in San Francisco awaiting a republican president.

  7. “Ten Republican senators voted for a resolution saying Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority.”

    Ten Senators is a minority of GOP Senators, some of those ten are the more liberal or libertarian leaning of the caucus. I do not think that indicates a equivalent hypocrisy by the Republicans as a party than Obama’s reversal of his stated campaign rhetoric on this issue or Durbin’s recent pronouncement that Bush showed undue deference to Congress in asking for authorization for the Iraq invasion.

    1. Republican Credo: Every conception should be carried to term?.there will be plenty of time later to brutally kill or maim the result in a needless, senseless
      war.

      1. Because only the republicans fight needless, senseless wars.

        1. No, but they truely love war and make a big deal about abortion.

  8. I get the feeling that Obama is going to be remembered much like King John the Asshole of England, who was forced to sign the Magna Carta. The collapse of the dollar has been a long time coming, and I think it’s going to happen on Obama’s watch.

    -jcr

  9. All Hail the Great Marxist Mulatto! Ruler of Progressives! Lord of Idiots! Half White, Half Black, 100% Creepy!

    DC Comics destroys Wonder Woman’s Americana.
    http://libertarians4freedom.blogspot.com/

  10. Congress has outlived it’s usefulness. Sure, back in the horse and buggy days, when communication and travel times were measured in days, it made sense to have representatives from each state meet in the nations capital to enact laws at the federal level. Now that we live in an era of mass communication, with technologies such as video conferencing and document sharing, people no longer need to be in one location to share ideas. The state legislatures could very easily take on the responsibilities of congress, and hopefully, realign the actions of the federal government to meet the needs of the states, instead of the other way around.

    1. But that would reduce employement!!11!

      I find your idea intriguing, newsletter or no.

  11. I sort of agree, but re:9/11, an attack on the US is the executive’s baby. They are the ones in charge of the day to day running of the nation federal government.

    There’s a difference, you know.

    All this is a fine example of Statist Fallacy thinking. So thanks for that.

    1. A distinction that needs to be pointed out often and loudly. Thank you.

  12. The President’s initial offshore war-making institutional power was defined-in-practice (and defined within limits embraced by the Executive as much the Legislative branches) for a war with madmen in Tripoli.

    And the final nail in the coffin of any Executive limitation on offshore warmongering is – ironically – driven in to have a war with madmen in Tripoli. Tripoli and America sure do go way back. A sadly funny full-circle there.

  13. “Barack Obama continues the long, shameful trend of expanding executive power”
    Why would you think this dickwad loser would be any different?

  14. The presidency is a constitutionally weak office with very few powers. The last president to govern as the Constitution mandates is probably Grover Cleveland and the powers assumed by the president have grown ever since. This power grab has gone beyond war and peace, to economic and social concerns, as well as practically everything in life. GW Bush was bad enough, but at least he obtained congressional approval (not in the proper form) before that silly adventure in Iraq. As in just about any other area where I thought Bush evoked the response “can it get any worse”, Obama proves that yes, indeed it can.

    1. Obama proves that yes, indeed it can.

      Yes we can!

    2. Great point. Congress has much more power than the executive. The “necessary and proper” clause grants congress the authority to enact laws outlining the execution of any power granted by the constitution, not just the powers granted to the legislature. This grants congress the power to enact laws regulating how the presidents commander in chief role. They just lack the balls to go down that road.

  15. I’ve long accepted that the Constitution is a classic in the Mark Twain sense (“a book which people praise and don’t read”). But I just don’t understand why anybody believes one fucking thing any politician says anymore.

  16. Maybe someone can answer this question for me. Since the war powers act is for iminent(SP?) threats and obviously Lybia isn’t a threat when the President oversteps his bound by ordering an attack doesn’t the responsibility fall first to the generals, even though they must take orders this is clearly not a threat nor has it been approved by congress, they should have to refuse the order since they also take an oath to uphold the constitution and then Second for congress to immediately back up the generals and sue to stop. Yes I read the article and that was tried before but that doesn’t mean it can be tried again for each situation.

    1. Congress has greater powers regarding the military than the president. Yes, the president is the commander in chief, but congress has the power to regulations for the armed forces. As the commander in chief, the president would still be subject to the regulations of the congress. Congress could revise the war powers act in such a way that the president has no discretion when deciding to use military force.

      Of course, this would seem to be the intent behind giving congress the power to declare war. Since we no longer seem to do that, they should create clearer regulations defining how the military can be used.

  17. The advantage to a strong presidency is that the incumbent is a short timer as soon as the inauguration is done. The clock starts right away and is over quickly. Pelosi and her ilk have demonstrated that extremists who come from small nuggets of our country can stay in power long enough to do real damage in congress. Come from a part of the country that is off the beam politically, and as long as your are similarly extreme, you stay in. Eventually getting a committee chair or other power position from which you can really damage the rest of us and we can’t do much about it.

    Better to have the power in the hands of a guy who is about to have to leave, come 8 years, than trust it with people who are going to be there till they have to pry the gavel from their cold dead hands.

  18. Obama should be impeached. Right now it does not appear that this will happen, because the Republicans know that Obama is the biggest corporate stooge that they could ever hope to get.

  19. Weren’t there a bunch of repubs complaining that Obama didn’t go in quickly enough?

  20. Both parties support endless Wars for Israel, it all started nearly a decade ago under a false flag attack.
    9/11 and Israel, here:
    http://www.iuniverse.com/Books…..-000190526

  21. The always-interesting Michael Scheuer on Obama’s war:

    http://non-intervention.com/87…..legal-war/

  22. …to PeacePrez Obama’s sensitive feelings.

    1. And we all know how Barry feels about bullies.

  23. Quit focusing on the puppet(Obama) and start focusing on your State. Impeach congress! Impeach hell?Let us arrest them!

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  27. This one-party system the US has doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Checks and balances minus the balances and most of the checks. The idea that we’re trying to spread this form of government to the middle east is pathetic.

  28. “Republicans, meanwhile, have acquired a strange new respect for the notion that there are limits to the president’s use of military force. This is a sentiment that surfaces in the GOP only when a Democrat becomes president”. I agree wholeheartedly. So why not give credit to Ron Paul who has with unforgiving consistency pounced on presidents of both parties.

  29. ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

  30. ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

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