March 15, 1999
Contentious debate produces rubber-stamp of Kosovo
If children of congress, president, were placed on frontlines, policies would be different
Pandemonium reigned on the floor of the US House of Representatives as members debated the contentious issue of President Clinton's intention to place US troops in the middle of the Kosovo civil war.
President Clinton is planning on sending thousands of soldiers into harms' way for an unspecified amount of time to achieve unspecified goals and without a single shred of evidence that this internal conflict affects US interests or the safety of American citizens. The American public is outraged, military leaders says this deployment will further erode readiness, and yet Congress cannot muster the courage to tell this president "no."
The problem, of course, is that for far too long Members of Congress have endorsed the unconstitutional principle of complete presidential prerogative in military affairs. It is Congress, not the president, which is empowered to declare war. For years, though, Congress has allowed presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- to recklessly scatter our troops around the world to play the ill-conceived role of international policemen.
In this current debate, liberal Democrats cannot oppose military action in Kosovo (despite their better instincts to avoid wars) because to do so would reflect badly on a president of their party. Meanwhile, the conservative Republicans (who are finally coming around to a sensible understanding of proper defense policy) must endure charges of hypocrisy if they now oppose missions similar to those rubber-stamped under Republican administrations.
In an effort to appease the new federal religion of bipartisanship (I prefer non-partisanship), Republicans agreed to introduce a measure offering complete support to the president and any decision he may make regarding troops in Kosovo. Oddly, though, the measure had no binding legal effect, though it erroneously claimed to "authorize" such actions -- so much for even the notion of congressional oversight! Some Republicans -- including myself -- tried unsuccessfully to change the measure so that it would forbid, not approve, the use of troops.
As the pitch of the arguments rose to partisan rancor, it became abundantly clear that nothing good would occur when the House took its vote.
A House Concurrent Resolution has no binding legal authority, and is a tool used to make a public comment, but not create or alter federal law. That a non-binding resolution received barely a majority of the votes should be a clear signal to this president not to proceed as he has planned; but that is not likely to happen.
The winners, as always, are those who seek war and hold our Constitution and principles of non-interventionism in disdain. The losers, of course, are the soldiers who must endure yet another endless deployment that risks their safety and lives, as well as the taxpayers who will now foot the bill for yet another exercise in foreign adventurism.
During a speech on the House floor, and in conversations with like-minded colleagues, I have suggested that perhaps Presidents and Members of Congress would be less eager to intervene in every little war if their kids -- their sons, daughter, grandchildren and family -- were to be sent immediately to the frontlines of the conflict.
As a Vietnam era veteran I could not help but notice that many of those calling for war on the floor of the house had no record of military service in their own biographies. Indeed many of them were the very same people who protested against the war in Vietnam.
Some of those calling for war did have a military background, but I was especially glad to see heroes like former prisoner of war Sam Johnson and Randall "Duke ('Top Gun')" Cunningham, voting along with me to oppose this action. In fact, if only those congressmen who have truly seen combat had been allowed to vote, I dare say the outcome would have been greatly different.
It's easy for Congresses and Presidents to be "generous" with other people's money. It's apparently just as easy for them to fight international injustice with other people's children.
For those of us who cast our votes on the House floor, the pandemonium is merely inconvenient. For the men and women who must now carry out yet another mission of our horrendous foreign policy, the results are far more serious, if not deadly.
Addressing a different subject, though the underlying principles are the same, I quote Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."