Thursday, January 25, 2007

Congress & the Constitution

The Wall Street Journal says Congress does not have the Constitutional power to micromanage war, and the talk and efforts at Democrat resolutions about Iraq presume to do just that.
In addition to being feckless, all of this is unconstitutional. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has the sole Constitutional authority to manage the war effort. Congress has two explicit war powers: It has the power to declare war, which in the case of Iraq it essentially did with its resolution of 2003. It also has the power to appropriate funds.

There is a long and unsettled debate over whether Congress can decide to defund specific military operations once it has created a standing Army. We lean toward those who believe it cannot, but the Founders surely didn't imagine that Congress could start dictating when and where the 101st Airborne could be deployed once a war is under way.

Mr. Bush was conciliatory and respectful in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, asking Congress to give his new Iraq strategy a chance. In a better world, the Members would do so. But if they insist on seeking political cover by trying to operate as a committee of 535 Commanders-in-Chief, Mr. Bush will have to start reminding Congress who really has the job.

Of course, members of Congress do have the Constitutional power to play politics, and it seems to me many members of Congress are choosing to play politics with national security.
But then such analysis probably takes this resolution more seriously than most of the Senators do. If they were serious and had the courage of their convictions, they'd attempt to cut off funds for the Iraq effort. But that would mean they would have to take responsibility for what happens next. By passing "non-binding resolutions," they can assail Mr. Bush and put all of the burden of success or failure on his shoulders.
I've heard it said that politics ends where our shore begins. I do not know if this is an accurate characterization of a tradition in our politics or not. It is my opinion that members of Congress should think it is.

I suspect that instead of honestly and publicly confronting the leadership challenges posed by our war with jihadism, many members of Congress are simply trying to have things both ways. If we end up taking our military out of Iraq and bloody chaos follows, then they want to be able to point to the past when they supported resolutions to do just that. If, instead, the constitutionally elected government of Iraq is protected and held secure by our military (and other) efforts, then they hope you will forget they voted for such resolutions. I think they understand, as public choice economics suggests, that generally voters are "rationally ignorant." But, I think these politicians also understand that even just talk, much less passage, of such resolutions increases the probability that we will end up taking our military out of Iraq with bloody chaos to follow. That is why they hope voters are rationally ignorant and forgetful. I hope we don't forget. But I suspect the insights of public choice are pretty good on such matters.

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