Tuesday, September 9, 2014

cowardly warriors

When Congress passed the war powers act over President Nixon's veto, its primary goal was to prevent "another Vietnam."  That meant a major war, lasting more than a few weeks, where the U.S. military involvement grew incrementally, despite presidential denials of escalation or a wider war. The wording of the law, referring to "troops equipped for combat" and "introduced into hostilities," suggested a concern regarding ground forces, army soldiers and marines, rather than air strikes or naval deployments.

Despite the many controversies over the law, including repeated presidential refusals to consider the law binding, it has achieved its authors' goal: no major military operation not authorized by Congress has lasted more than three or four months.

Now we face a potential conflict against ISIL which will likely last a long time, require significant numbers of American military personnel and a wide variety of military operations, and carry the risk of broader conflict and unintended consequences. Although the Obama administration will promise "no boots on the ground," meaning regular infantry, in fact it is likely to deploy personnel to gather intelligence and advise allied forces -- the same slippery slope seen in Vietnam.

If Congress cared about the Constitution, and its power to authorize major combat operations, it would stand up, debate, vote -- and keep voting until it passes something which can be signed into law. I fear, however, that Congress is too cowardly to act.  Measures have already been introduced. But the leadership in both parties seems reluctant. And many Senators are already wedded to conflicting positions. There is even one proposal that would allow those boots on the ground.

One of the most consistent advocates of force to deal with various problems, Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC], explained his reluctance to have a vote.
"What if it comes over and you can't pass it? That would be a disaster. And what if you put so many conditions on it that it makes any military operation ineffective, that's what I worry about," Mr. Graham said.
Yes, those are bad outcomes. The only good outcome is a genuine vote on a compromise measure that fulfills congressional responsibility and makes them accountable.

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