The Dictator’s Personal Army
by Mark Luedtke
United States presidents have long known the best way to win popular support is to wage war. In the 19th century, presidents used Manifest Destiny as an excuse to wage war on Native Americans and Mexico. In the 20th century, despite winning the 1916 election as an anti-war candidate, Wilson dragged the U.S. into World War I by pretending it was an ideological conflict instead of a murderous family squabble between European rulers, cousins all. F.D.R. maneuvered the U.S. into World War II by cutting off Japan’s access to oil and shipping weapons to the allies in violation of the official position of neutrality. But at least Wilson and F.D.R. acknowledged the necessity of getting a formal declaration of war from Congress as required by the Constitution before bombing and invading other countries.
Harry Truman didn’t let the Constitution limit his desire for presidential greatness. On his own authority, citing a UN resolution, he ordered the invasion of Korea, a war that killed 34,000 Americans and untold numbers of Koreans and Chinese. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon continued that tradition of lawlessness by illegally waging war in Vietnam.
Congress has two powers to deal with lawless presidents like these. The first is to cut off funding for the war, but cutting off funding for U.S. troops under fire in a foreign country is political suicide for every member of Congress except the representative from Berkeley. The second is to remove the president from office, which is practically impossible since it requires impeachment by the House then a two-thirds vote in the Senate and senators won’t vote to remove a president of their own party.
Congress passed the War Powers Act in a feeble attempt to stop presidents from unilaterally starting wars. It never had a chance of succeeding. By definition, presidents who start wars without a declaration from Congress are lawless. They ignore the Constitution so they’ll ignore any other law as well. Bill Clinton dared Congress to stop him when he invaded Kosovo, and while Reagan, Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger obeyed the War Powers Act, it proved no check on presidential power because Congress acted as a rubber stamp.
So it’s no surprise that President Obama ignores the War Powers Act too. He’s the most lawless president in our lifetime. From the blatantly unconstitutional takeover of our health care system, to shaking down GM, Chrysler and other companies, to firing corporate executives and limiting their pay, he’s proven his ruling doctrine is might makes right, and as president he has all the might. The law be damned. According to his spokesman, his only regret is that political reality keeps him from using more violence against us.
That worked for a while, but his popularity is tanking. His lawless attacks on Libya temporarily won him support from the American people. No doubt he was hoping to quickly vanquish Gadhafi and bask in glory — warmongering sycophants always advise that will happen — but the longer Gadhafi holds out, the more opinion is turning against him.
That’s why NATO has stepped up attacks that target Gadhafi personally, called attacks on command and control (wink, wink). Congressmen sense political opportunity so many are pushing him to acquiesce on the War Powers Act.
But a leopard can’t change its spots. Obama’s argument for why he chose not to comply with the War Powers Act is laughable. He claims bombing Libya is not a war. Obama claims because there are no troops officially on the ground (wink, wink), we’re not at war. According to USA Today, the president overruled Department of Justice and Pentagon lawyers, relying “instead on the opinions of other senior administration lawyers that continuing U.S. participation in the air operations against the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi did not constitute ‘hostilities.’” To Obama, killing people isn’t hostile as long as he orders the killing. This is the defining characteristic of a despot.
At least Obama is consistent. He’s waging illegal wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and probably more countries, not just in Libya. But the hypocrites in Congress are only questioning him about Libya. It’s no wonder he feels no need to comply. Congress only cares because of popular opinion, not because politicians suddenly care about life or the law.
But it’s not fair to put all the responsibility for this lawlessness on the politicians. They don’t personally, illegally invade other countries. The members of the U.S. military do.
Like politicians, U.S. military officers take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They do not take an oath to blindly follow orders. The president who orders the military to illegally wage war is clearly the enemy of the Constitution. It is the responsibility of every U.S. military officer to refuse to serve in illegal wars, yet virtually none do.
But ultimately voters are responsible. Our government doesn’t respect the Constitution because voters don’t respect the Constitution. From supporting illegal wars to the Department of Education, entitlements, the War on Drugs, the TSA and hundreds more unconstitutional activities, American voters are the Constitution’s worst enemy. That’s why our country is on the verge of collapse.
Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com