House Republicans like to talk -- and talk, and talk -- about their regard for the founders and the Constitution.
House Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Tea Party, and their circle even attempted -- in unsettlingly bumbling manner -- to read the document into the Congressional Record at the opening of the current Congress.
Now, however, with a backdoor plan to commit the United States to a course of permanent war-making, they are affronting the most basic premises of a Constitution that requires congressional declarations of all wars and direct and engaged oversight of military missions.
The House Republican leadership, working in conjunction with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, has included in the 2012 defense authorization bill language (borrowed from the sweeping Detainee Security Act) that would effectively declare a state of permanent war against unnamed and ill-defined foreign forces "associated" with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The means that, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (which GOP leaders in the House have refused to officially recognize as a significant development), the Department of Defense will be authorized to maintain a permanent occupation of Afghanistan, a country bin Laden abandoned years ago, and a global war against what remains of bin Laden's fragmented operation.
Instead of an explicit declaration of war with Afghanistan or the ill-defined global conflict, the GOP leaders slipped language into the spending bill that simply announced the U.S. is "engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces" and that claims an old "Authorization for Use of Military Force necessarily includes the authority to address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups."
That's about as wide-ranging as it gets, and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee argues that the language makes a mockery of the Constitutional requirement that Congress check and balance the executive branch and the Department of Defense when it comes to questions of extending wars.
(The language included in the spending bill) would appear to "grant the President near unfettered authority to initiate military action around the world without further congressional approval," argues Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan. "Such authority must not be ceded to the President without careful deliberation from Congress."
Conyers and 32 House Democrats have written Armed Services Committee Chairman McKeon asking that he "immediately call hearings ... so that the American people have an opportunity to consider the serious impacts that this legislation could have on our national security."
That's the right call.
James Madison, the essential author of Constitution.
Madison observed in the founding years of the American experiment that:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."The Madisonian impulse is kept alive today not by House leaders who claim to revere the Constitution while adandoning its principles but by those members of Congress who object to permanent war for the same reasons that the wisest of the founders did.
Here is the Conyers letter: