Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
December 21, 1998
Unconstitutional wars gravest of crimes
Congress must reclaim from president power to declare war
No proposition is more serious than placing in harms' way the lives of our nation's soldiers. Wars are instituted by governments, but it is the youth that pay the ultimate price.

It is for this reason that the Constitution speaks clearly about where the power for engaging troops in battle must rest. In Article 1, Section 8, the Constitution gives the power to "declare war, grant letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water" solely to the House of Representatives. The reason for this is clear; the House is the branch of the federal government closest to the people, standing for election the most often, and therefore the most accountable.

When our young men in uniform were sent into battle last week by the president (regardless of whether for honorable or dishonorable reasons), it was in direct contradiction to the United States Constitution, in keeping with the history of the past half-century.

Despite the thousands of Americans who have died in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and other locales, there has not been a declared war since World War II. Each of those actions occurred without the constitutional requirement of a declaration of war. In reality many of our nation's young men died in the pitch of battle and war, but in the coldness of the law, they fell -- depending on the case -- in "police actions," "peacekeeping missions" or "support operations," with the authority usually coming from the United Nations, rather than the US Congress.

In what should be regarded as the gravest of all crimes, these citizens were sent to their deaths unconstitutionally. And, it should be noted, for actions we lost. We lost those wars simply because they were not matters of urgency in protecting our national security, but political battles waged to appease one interest group or another. Without the full resolve of Congress and a declaration of war to protect our security, our military must deal with such vague politically correct objectives as "reducing the ability" of a foreign leader to potentially do something. How does one define a "reduced ability," let alone bring such an objective to fruition?

It is commonly, but incorrectly, assumed that a president has the authority to send troops into battle, though under our Constitution, the highest law of the land, he does not.

Sadly, though, Congress has abdicated -- unconstitutionally -- its solemn responsibility in this matter. Members of Congress are eager to let presidents drop bombs on foreign nations for many reasons, though the underlying one is that it relieves them of personal responsibility while giving each a sense of strength and power.

An attempt was made to rectify this situation in the early 1970s, with the introduction of the War Powers Act, following the Korea and Vietnam fiascoes. The legislation originally would have moved us closer to the Constitution. What passed, however, has made things far worse in the intervening 25 years. Now the law allows presidents to send troops into any battle, anywhere, for any reason, without Congress having any chance to voice even opposition until long after lives have been endangered.

Under the War Powers Act, a president can send troops into battle to honor a UN request or to divert attention from personal problems.

Often, of course, the military industrial complex and their allies in Congress push for meaningless resolutions supporting the action, even if the action is objectively wrong. Remember, these are not war declarations, but resolutions rubber stamping presidential actions. The rhetoric used, then , is that one must vote for these resolutions to "support the troops."

Never addressed, of course, is the absurdity of how one can "support" soldiers by sending them into unconstitutional battles where they will die for causes other than protecting our security interests.

Most recently, the Congress interrupted the important impeachment debate to pass a two-part resolution. The first half simply offered support for our troops, and was unobjectionable. The second half, though, encouraged the president, praised his unconstitutional actions, and recommended that he engage in further unconstitutional actions by trying to topple the leadership of Iraq and replace it with what would amount to a US taxpayer supported puppet regime. Of course, voting against the second part is depicted as the fans of unconstitutional war as opposing our troops. Nevertheless, I voted against the resolution because I cannot sanction abuses of our Constitution.

Congress should support the troops by taking them out of senseless danger, not encouraging a soon-to-be impeached president to risk further the lives of enlisted men.

The gravest crime against our Constitution is the one never addressed: the senseless slaughter of our soldiers, our best and brightest. Perhaps one day Congress will reclaim its constitutionally mandated power of sole authority over matters of war. Until then, more young men will die senseless deaths.