When we met to record "Truthful Trillions," Ned told me that his current fascination was with the way the United States goes about getting itself into wars.
Ned has a BA and Masters degree from George Washington University. He's also had forty years of professional experience in planning civil and military airfields, weapons testing facilities, launch facilities and training installations, as well as the evaluation of the operational effects of related programs on civilian communities. Along the way, he developed a technology evaluation and commercialization process for a major IT science firm with 45,000 employees.
I read it with great interest and spent some time thinking over his points, before--duh!--it occurred to me that you might like to read it as well.
The conundrum evidenced by Mr. Obama’s speech on the occasion of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of the state of American constitutional laws addressing war powers. To hear the President speak, you would think that he controls war powers and is responsible for the initiation of wars.
The trouble is, he’s not, and Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution says he’s not. Hence, confusion, conflict and conundrum prevail.
Congress alone holds those powers, and regularly approves or disapproves of war powers the President requests. However, since World War Two, the last time Congress declared war, the power to initiate wars has gradually been assumed by the office of the president in a process driven by the ends dictating the means.
When we are really frightened, or really angry, we just smudge out a few more lines in the Constitution and give the President more war powers. Hence, the final straw: in 2001 the President was given the authority to “use military force against nations, persons or organizations HE determines” were complicit in the events of 9/11. At last, a tear in place of a smudge: a statute has given the president the power to determine who our enemies are and to commit acts of war against them.
Unlike recent presidents, Obama is a constitutional scholar, and he knows that there is a high wind just waiting to blow across the tightrope he has inherited. He knows full well the Congress can’t just change the Constitution with a statute; incrementalism has a way of eroding even stone. Besides it passed the dumb President test at the time. Can you imagine being President and KNOWING that you have the power to pick a nation, person or organization and initiate warfare against them?
Once inheriting this power Obama goes on the world stage, receives a PEACE prize, and explains that he will use his power, if necessary, knowing that he now decides what is necessary. A lesser man would be heady about this kind of power, but Obama is understandably cautious and perplexed.
Someday, an American President will inherit this power eagerly and put it to good use. Finally, we will be a nation of men rather than laws, but we won’t be America.