Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Constitutionality of light-footprint warfare

Two legal scholars, Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Waxman, argue that President Obama's use of special operations forces, drones, and cyber attacks amount to an expansion of executive war powers beyond the current control of Congress.  They make a convincing case that congressional acquiescence -- by non-action -- in this light-footprint warfare has created alarming precedents for future administrations to evade congressional controls.

I share many but not all of their concerns. I believe that Congress has failed to assert its proper role in major military operations by enacting some kind of measure of support, opposition, or limitation on recent conflicts. But I also believe that the basic motivation behind the War Powers Resolution was to prevent unauthorized big wars and not to put lawmakers in the role of micromanagers of all combat deployments. That goal has been met, for all post-1973 military operations have either been authorized or kept limited in size or duration.

Goldsmith and Waxman propose a half-way measure:
...a more realistic approach—and one better suited to light-footprint
warfare—could be for Congress to establish a system where it approves the
overall strategic direction of U.S. counterterrorism operations at regular multiyear
intervals. It could remain involved in the interim with something akin to
the model of approval and oversight it currently uses with respect to administrative
agencies and covert operations. Congress could delegate authority to use force
against terrorists that meet certain criteria, such as possessing organizational coherence
and posing a particular type or degree of imminent threat to the United
States. In return, the president could be required to report publicly and to Congress
about each new entity against which it is invoking this delegated power, where,
and on what factual basis.
I agree with that, and have long proposed the covert action process for drone and cyber operations. But even their proposal calls for some kind of congressional guidance on counter-terrorism. I hope lawmakers recognize their duty to do something in this rgard.

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