Debate Forum Left, 6/21/11

Seriously Congress? Permission, shmer-mission

by Benjamin Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I think one of the most frustrating things in the entire universe is watching Congress ruin a good cause because of a perceived procedural slight. It’s very playground, and when that procedural slight comes from the president, you can bet the size and scope of the tantrum is going to go from teenager to two-year-old in about half a second.

Of course, if the president commits troops to a NATO coalition action against a repressive, homicidal regime in Libya, you can bet that opposition to that action in Congress is going to immediately start picking away at that action like a chicken digging for grubs in a barnyard to see how many different reasons they can come up with for why he shouldn’t be able to do it. That I get. Any politician would do that, because politicians are nothing if not thoroughly committed to generating frustration and gridlock.

But what surprises me the most about this situation with the War Powers Act is that Congress was bellyaching for days that President Obama wasn’t acting swiftly enough to intervene in Libya in the first place. Remember that? And not just his political party either. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were bitterly protesting what appeared to be inhumane indecision on Obama’s part, only to find out that what appeared to be indifference was actually the planning phase of a massive international coalition so the U.S. wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the financial burden of enforcing the no-fly zone.

Now you’d think … Congress would be worshipping the ground on which he walked for not only doing the thing they were begging him to do, but also finding a way to avoid the financial burden and sociopolitical fallout of spearheading the campaign. We all know how well it has worked out in the past to have the U.S. interfering in the private affairs of the Muslim world. Frankly, I think it took incredible nerve and grit for President Obama to stare down mounting criticism and a rising humanitarian cost in order to ensure that the operation was sustainably carried out by a legitimate, multi-national coalition and led by NATO. He had members of Congress calling for action right, left and center, and all of it in spite of the fact that our debt is so out of control another military action seemed almost inconceivable. Even Marco Rubio, a Tea Party-backed Senator and the kind of guy you would think would be so against any increase in spending he’d rather watch the country collapse into anarchy rather than give a sandwich to a homeless vet, even went so far as to say Obama’s action was “too prudent in its military engagement in Libya.”

So here we are, several months after doing what Congress was beating him with a stick to get him to do, and what happens? They get pissed off and want to pull the plug because he didn’t officially get their permission. I’m sorry, but I have to ask on behalf of the rest of the country:

“Are you bloody serious?”

No really, I think we deserve an answer for that question. You told him to do it, he did it, and now you’re pulling the “you didn’t fill out the proper paperwork” argument? Fine. In the future you can run your own wars. Oh wait, you can’t because it’s not your job. That’s why you were begging him to act in the first place. He’s the Commander in Chief of the military. So why does he need to ask your permission to go to war in the first place? Because you passed the War Powers Act of 1973 declaring he does. This line of logic becomes convoluted very, very quickly.

Follow me for a second. The president is ultimately in charge of conducting all military operations. If it goes well, he gets all the credit. If it fails, he gets all the blame. Troops cannot be deployed anywhere in the world without official say-so from the president, and no war or police action can be undertaken without his approval. Congress, however, has no authority whatsoever to operate militarily. Hence all the begging and whining about Libya. So why should the president have to seek congressional approval for military action in the first place?

Unfortunately, the War Powers Act has resulted in a situation where the president has all of the accountability without the authority to fully govern his decisions. Because they have no mandate for action, Congress assumes none of the responsibility if things go south. However, they are ultimately calling the shots because they can veto the Commander in Chief’s decision to engage. Congress shouldn’t be anywhere near this decision, and if they feel very strongly they can always decide to cut off funding. Otherwise, they should keep their noses out of it.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO.  He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

 

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