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Populist #25

by Franklin Friday, Mar. 24, 2006 at 10:17 PM

Limiting Presidential War Powers

Read Previous Papers here

At this point of our discussion, it should be obvious to any person who would read the Constitution of the United States that the powers granted to all three federal branches, and especially the Executive, are far removed and expanded from what the founders originally codified as law.  More specifically, our recent study has focused on the powers to declare and wage war; the former of which has been arrogated by the Executive in contravention to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

For more than five decades, controversial language has been vigorously debated in the halls of our government in an effort to either satisfy political constituencies, or to be used as a way for Congress to avoid direct responsibility of whether or not to go to war.  In that time, resolutions rarely, if ever, mentioned war; rather, they have empowered the President to use force at will in order to bring peace to a particular country or region.  This is rather strange language indeed!

Living under the fear of world "communism" and now international "terrorism", American citizens have accepted such Presidential despotism; they have accepted perceived security over individual liberty.  The rule of law is in its last throes, and hope for it may very well fade away entirely unless we, the People, demand it!

A powerful Executive branch, practicing unchecked activities in the realm of war, poses the greatest of all threats to our liberty and safety.  There are three forms of presidential imperialism; being aggressive and hostile internationally, acting intrusively and trampling rights at home, and taking power from another branch of government.  Usurping the power to declare war, or accepting an illegal transfer of this power from Congress, encompasses all three; but the imperial nature of the American presidency can be proven by one simple fact; it has the power to destroy the entire world with the push of a button.  The President of the United States has the power to wipe out humanity.

The founders may not have been able to even fathom such devastating capabilities, but they still did their best to ensure that no one person would accumulate a vast wealth of power.  Although they clearly did not achieve this, they were perhaps most adamant about limiting the war-declaring powers to the legislative branch; entrusting the President with the power to wage war only after it has been officially declared by Congress.

Originally, the President was meant to be little more than an executive officer, with limited powers confined mostly to carrying out the legislative dictates of Congress; which was also strictly limited to its own enumerated functions in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.  In the course of our examination of the Executive and war powers, we can clearly see that this attempt has failed miserably.  No longer is Congress, the representatives of the People, called upon to declare war.  Instead, they have routinely, and haphazardly, transferred this power to the Executive.

Ever since the war in Korea, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which refers to the President as the "commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States," has been misinterpreted, and even distorted in such a manner so as to give the Executive the power to act with impunity while conducting foreign affairs; allowing the President to send men and women into battle without even consulting Congress.  But, we must consider the fact that the President does not have the constitutional authority to initiate an unprovoked war; as commander-in-chief, the President can only wage war after a formal declaration by the representatives of the People.

Some, even in Congress, claim that this Constitutional requirement is an anachronism, and that people who demand that the federal government follow our nation's founding legal document are just being senseless and trivial.  I could not disagree more, and I rise in firm opposition to such illegality.  Reflect on what the federal government has told its own citizens, and even the rest of the world; that America stands for freedom, limited government and the rule of law, instead of dictatorship, all-powerful government, and the rule of individuals.  It appears that what we have been told is little more than a myth.

All of America's wars and so-called "police actions" since the middle of the twentieth century have failed the above requirement for constitutionality, and therefore, have been illegal from the outset.  Without a legal beginning, there can be no proper end.  Attacking weak enemies that have few weapons, did not aggress against us, or pose little to no threat to our nation, does nothing to enhance liberty, prosperity, and peace here or abroad.  Not only is it sad that we have gone so far astray from our constitution, but it's also dangerous for world peace, and threatens our liberties here at home.

These adventures have shown us that human nature has not changed over the past three centuries; government officials with omnipotent powers, including those in the United States government, will still do evil things when given great power.  And, to add insult to injury, in this war, like all others, the propagandists and promoters themselves don't fight; nor do their children.

One begins to see the worth of Thomas Paine's comment in his seminal work, The Rights of Man: "In reviewing the history of the English government, its wars and its taxes, a bystander, not blinded by prejudice, not warped by interest, would declare, that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes."

There is, however, little doubt that America's role in the world went under dramatic changes in the twentieth century; it relentlessly evolved from that of strict non-interventionism to that of sole superpower and world police force.  It seems that most of us have completely forgotten, or even dismiss, the fact that for more than a century our rulers followed the foreign policy advice of the founders, and avoided far-off wars.  Instead we now find ourselves in charge of an empire; an American hegemony that spans the globe.

Now, in the early stages of the twenty-first century, one would be hard-pressed to find a nation anywhere in the world that doesn't either depend on the United States for protection, or fear the repercussions if they refuse her demands.  And, as time has passed, American citizens have been required to finance this empire, with great sacrifices to their life, liberty and property.

In this transition from an American foreign policy based primarily on peace, trade, and neutrality to that of world police, we have ceded our sovereignty to global organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  To further discredit our position, we have often times engaged in unilateral acts even within these world organizations.  This simple fact is the most straightforward demonstration of American foreign policy arrogance; we accept the principles of global government when it works to our favor, and when it does not, we denounce it so that we can still pursue our own interests.

Such unilateralism and foreign meddling is a far cry from the strict non-intervention that the founders advised.  Limiting power was essential in forming the laws of this nation.  Unfortunately, wars in recent decades have shown us, as well as the people of the world, that the United States is no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of individual power.

The term "foreign policy," for example, does not exist in the Constitution.  Every member in every branch of the federal government has sworn to uphold the Constitution; thus, they have taken an oath to do only those things that are clearly authorized.  A quick read of the Constitution makes it clear that Congress has a great deal more responsibility in dealing with foreign affairs than the President; who is not authorized to declare war or finance military action without congressional approval.

The Constitution reigns supreme.  It is the set of principles to govern the government.  The Constitution is all that stands between the People and totally tyranny and despotism.  It is the legal document that lays out the rules by which a contest for freedom between people and their government in America should be played out.  Unfortunately, the Constitution itself has been ineffective in preventing violations.  A good starting point to rectify our current problems, however, would be for Congress to assume the responsibility given it, and ensure that the Executive branch does not usurp any authority explicitly granted to Congress.  Alternatively, the President should also assume proper responsibility and check the Legislative branch by simply refusing to accept any transfer of power that is not expressly authorized by the Constitution.

Defending our country from outside attack is a legitimate priority for our federal government to undertake, but protecting individual liberty should be our ultimate goal.  This does not mean, however, that our armies should follow our citizens or their business investments to all corners of the world; thus, acting as nothing more than private protection agencies, with the bill being paid for by the American people.

Protecting our national sovereignty and guaranteeing constitutional protection of our rights is essential.  Respecting the sovereignty of other nations, even when our government is in disagreement with some or all of their policies, is also of the highest necessity.  Changing the policies of foreign nations must only be done through persuasion and good example, not violence and murder.

Unfortunately, our political rulers have completely lost touch with our system of limited government.  Today, too many American politicians support the use of force to spread a perceived message of hope and freedom.  Their vile use of the ideals of liberty and democracy all too often end up in death and destruction.  Using force unjustly, instead of promoting the honorable message of American freedom through peaceful means, antagonizes our enemies, alienates our allies, and threatens personal liberties here at home; all the while burdening our economy to the point of collapse.  Continually giving the Executive a blanket authorization to initiate war upon Presidential decree could very well prove fatal to the American experiment in liberty.

Congress at any time can prevent or stop all undue and unjust foreign entanglements pursued by the Executive branch simply by refusing to finance them.  If our system of government and it's highly touted checks and balances truly worked, this simple task would have been done numerous times in the last sixty years.  But, unfortunately, the system, as well as the people we have entrusted with power, has failed us.

The current war in Iraq, for example, has now lasted for over fifteen years, and has spanned the administration of three Presidents and Congresses controlled by both prevailing political parties.  This makes it clear that it is not just the Executive branch, but also the Congress, and even our system of government itself, that are all equally responsible for the never-ending quagmire of war which our nation has labored under for decades.

What remedy can there be for this other than a change in the system which has produced it?  Trusting a President, Congress, or either ruling political party to rectify these evils would place the liberty of the People at the mercy of their rulers and potential tyrants.  What fools are we to trust the preservation of our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or evil?  Show me a nation in history where the rights and liberties of the people rested solely on the hope of their rulers being good, without a subsequent loss of liberty!   For once power is seized by such extra-constitutional means, not the least fragment of liberty will survive the collapse!

Thomas Jefferson stated, quite clearly, the duty of the People to check the government when he said, "An elective despotism is not the government we fought for."  Thomas Paine concurred when he said, "It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from the government."  It is this duty that I will endeavor to examine further in my next paper, on April 6, 2006.

In the spirit of liberty and prosperity,


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