June 21, 2011

Smiling villainy

O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—

Shakespeare, Hamlet. Now that sucker could write.

An old buddy told me he awoke at 3 am in a worried state of mind the day after he read the first of this (mildly) obsessive series on Obama's illegal war in Libya. Since this stalwart fellow (a friend of 50 years duration) is anything but an alarmist, I myself began to reflect further on the deeper implications of Obama's penchant, increasing day by day, to do anything he damn well pleases on the executive/commander-in-chief front.

A couple of things occurred to me: taking the country to war is, and ought to be, a very big deal. And the second, disconcerting thought was that the only real government institution capable of reining Obama in is that pathetic, dysfunctional congregation known as the United States Congress. This is not a happy confluence of factors to ponder on this warm summer night, for surely Obama is as aware as this lonesome blogger that Congress simply cannot act in a cohesive, principled manner, has not for a very long time, and so the President (in his thinking) may as well play directly to a wider audience with a policy, and a war, that he calculates increases his electability (which, it is becoming obvious, is his only guiding principle in office), and if it's illegal, well, that's okay. The important thing is how it looks.

Congressman Ron Paul, who has vaulted to the front of the Republican pack of Presidential candidates (mirabile dictu), wrote a piece on Counterpunch which begins:

Last week I joined six Republican and three Democrat colleagues to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its illegal war against Libya. Now that more than 90 days have passed since the president began bombing Libya, no one can seriously claim that the administration has complied with the clear requirements of the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
(Paul also uses the word "chutzpah" to describe what Obama has done, which I think is a nice touch, and somewhat surprising for a Rep from Texas.) The above is not bad and certainly better than nothing, but here's the thing: once again, the implication is that a President can fight any war he wants, against anyone, anywhere, because he's in a bad mood, or didn't like something someone in a country said, or because the country "tried to kill my dad" (in Bush's formulation), and that's okay for 90 days, but after that, the President needs authorization (and money) to keep going. That is simply not what the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, par. (11)) and the War Powers Resolution say.

Maybe Paul only means that under any interpretation of the War Powers Resolution Obama is now outside the permissible scope of a Presidential unilateral decision to go to war in the absence of Congressional authorization, and with that statement I also agree. But the other point is not really subtle, and it's not difficult to figure out. What you need is what Bush called The Google, and you need to know (not actually, but it helps) that the federal laws of the United States are kept in several shelves of deep maroon books called the United States Code Annotated (each book about the size of a church hymnal), and you can then type in the words "War Powers Resolution," and bingo!, you will have done all of the research I ever did on this subject. Which is to say, I read the damn statute. And if you do, almost the very first thing you'll read in the substantive part of the statue is this, in 50 U.S.C.A. 1541:

(c) Presidential executive power as Commander-in-Chief; limitation
The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

President Obama did not run into legal trouble because he carried on this Libyan war for more than 90 days without Congressional authorization; the war is illegal because he never consulted with Congress on the necessity of the war before he initiated hostilities and obtained statutory authorization (as required by subsection (2) above), which is the only possible basis for proceeding in these circumstances. Hell, even Bush & Cheney obtained authorizations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They weren't exactly honest about how they went about that, but at least they checked the box.

One grows very uneasy indeed thinking about a President, especially in shaky economic times, when the country is in bad shape and fractured along partisan lines of division, becoming too amenable to the dictates of the generals and the military establishment. Congress needs to take control. Mr. Mumbles and The Diva need to call out their own party's leader on this blatant illegality and act more like the statespeople who saved the country during Watergate, and less like con artists figuring out a way for their guy to get away with something.

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