May 3, 1999
The war that isn't a war
Cracks forming in unconstitutional wall of war policy
Congress has sent a strong, clear message opposing the president's unconstitutional war in the Balkans. At the same time, Congress has also sent a strong, clear message supporting the president's unconstitutional war in the Balkans.
If this seems something akin to the clinical definition of schizophrenia, perhaps that is because no other word as aptly describes US foreign policy and constitutional debate. To the casual observer, "Kosovo day" on the House floor had to appear to be chaotic, but I think it was chaotic for a precise reason. The House was, in essence, trying to operate within a flawed unconstitutional process which has been going on for more than 50 years -- not just with this President, but every President since World War II. We have in the Congress permitted our Presidents too much leeway in waging war.
Some of us tried to restore the constitutional responsibility of the House of Representatives to wage war. Some will argue it was done sloppily, but considering the alternative of doing nothing, this was much better.
Nevertheless these votes were very important. One of the most significant, if
not the most significant: was the vote to declare war on Yugoslavia.
But that was an easy vote. The House overwhelmingly voted not to go to war, a sentiment with which I have long been in complete agreement. Why should we go to war against a country that has not aggressed against us?
The chaos and inconsistency, though, came with the other votes. I think there are too many congressmen who have enjoyed the fact that they have delivered the responsibility to the President. They do not want war, but they want war. They do not want a legal war, they want an illegal war. They do not want a war to win; they want a war that is a half of a war. They want the President to do the dirty work, and they certainly do not want Congress to stand up and decide one way or the other.
So it is not surprising that within just a couple of hours, the Congress voted:
So while Congress has now stood up to the president in opposing his air war and ground war, Congress has likewise voted against withdrawal of the troops!
- To oppose a ground war;
- To oppose the ongoing air war;
- To not declare an official state of war;
- To keep the troops in the Balkans, presumably doing exactly what I am uncertain.
The people of the United States know this war simply does not make sense. If the people of this country were frightened, if they felt like they were being attacked, if they felt like their liberties were threatened, the vote would have been much different.
What is not different, unfortunately, is the 50-years of constitutional "role reversal." Constitutionally, it is the role of Congress to declare war and for the president to subsequently implement the action. Now, presidents can declare war whenever and wherever they want, and Congress is all but powerless to stop him.
But the recent votes demonstrate a crack is forming in the unconstitutional wall that has been erected around our foreign policy. This should seen for what it is: an encouraging sign that changes are possible. It is now incumbent upon Congress and the American people to exploit that crack and restore constitutional principles to our dealings with foreign nations and, most especially, matters of war.
It is significant that the House has finally chosen not to rubber stamp an illegal, unconstitutional and immoral war. The American people know that the only moral war is a war that is fought in self-defense.
While not the best outcome, it is also significant that this president is now left to fight an immoral war, that is now officially not a war. And he is left to fight it without the unquestioning support of Congress.
It is some consolation that out of the recent legislative chaos and psychosis, it has been highlighted for the American people the wisdom of the Founding Father's provisions for war, and the malaise certain to result when the Constitution is abandoned.