Saturday, August 31, 2013

Congress can say no to war and mean it

It's a shame that the Obama administration hasn't even tried to force Congress to take a stand on Syrian use of chemical weapons. Prior to 1950 and the start of the Korean War, that was the practice in cases of major military operations.

John Adams asked for and got a military build up to prepare for possible war with France in 1798.

Thomas Jefferson sent ships with strictly defensive orders against Barbary pirates while Congress was out of session for several months, but asked for authority and more ships -- and Congress responded not only with formal authority to fight but even voted new taxes to pay for the operations.

Just recently, while researching the war of 1812, I discovered that Congress had actually authorized the seizure of Spanish-held East Florida in 1811 in a secret law not disclosed until many years later. I’d missed it because the war did not take place. [Andrew Jackson took Florida on his own a few years later.] I also learned that, despite that 1811 law, Congress in 1812 defeated a bill sought by President Madison  to occupy and establish a government in East Florida. Madison decided to withdraw troops already deployed for the attack.

I also learned that President Buchanan twice –in 1858 and 1859 -- asked Congress for the authority to send troops into northern Mexico and establish a protectorate there. There was ongoing widespread civil conflict and atrocities against Americans and Mexicans. He never sent the troops because the Senate first defeated such a bill and then failed to act on his second request.

These are worthwhile examples of when Presidents heeded the will of Congress on military actions.

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