Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New War Powers Act

A bipartisan study group (don't you just love those?) has suggested a new war powers statute be put into place to better coordinate the decision to go to war between the executive and legislative branches.

The full report is interesting reading. It reviews the confusion that has reigned since the early days of our country's history on the scope of legislative and executive powers in times of armed conflict and the problems inherent in the current statute. While I'm no constitutional scholar, I take something of a middle view on the issue. The constitution's language and intent seems clear to me in it's requirement that Congress authorize any major conflicts. The only reasonable exceptions are conflicts of extremely short duration (such as Grenada) or situations in which the president has to respond immediately to a crisis (such as the opening of the Civil War, when Congress was out of session). However, once war has been authorized by the Congress, the president has broad discretion in the conduct of the war. Short of defunding, Congress should have little ability to interfere. This seems logical both from the standpoint of the president's explicitly stated authority as commander in chief, and also from the practical realization that effective military action requires a clear and unitary chain of command. Furthermore, as the case of the Iraq War so aptly illustrates, even when Congress does authorize a conflict, the president is primarily the one who suffers when public opinion turns against a conflict.

My only real problem with the report is the timing. It would seem obvious that, despite the fact that it has no bearing on the current war, releasing such a document while the conflict in Iraq is continuing cannot help but politicize a decision that should be made on purely pragmatic and constitutional grounds. Just as the current statute is the spoiled fruit of the Vietnam era, so any statute enacted next year would inevitably be tainted by Iraq. Wouldn't it be better to shelve this idea until the conflict has come to some sort of resolution before trying to determine how the handle the next war?