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We Just Stopped Congress From Giving the Power of War to Presidents

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"What's the point?"  "We never win!"  "Why bother trying?"
 
This time we won.

This is the point.  Congressman Buck McKeon and Senator John McCain proposed to give Obama and all future presidents dramatically expanded powers to launch wars.  They wanted to do so as part of the same "Defense Authorization Act" in which the House was restricting Obama's warmaking in Libya. 

Activist groups like RootsAction pushed back.  A great deal of support was generated for an amendment to strip the offending language out in the House, but the amendment failed.  RootsAction, and other organizations, demanded that the Senate remove it:

At the same time, the House rejected amendments that would have limited or ended U.S. warfare in Afghanistan, and rejected an amendment that would have stripped Section 1034 from the bill.  That section is perhaps the most fundamental change to the structure of our federal government that has ever appeared likely to pass through Congress, as it would effectively give the power to make war to all future presidents.  We must demand that the Senate remove Section 1034.

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The Senate is now proposing a bill that does not include that section.  Remain ever vigilant, but if you can use a pat on the back then give yourself one now.  You just helped stop the most dangerous piece of legislation we've seen in Congress, at least in a very long time.  In what will come as a shock to the Tea Party, McKeon and McCain planned to crown President Barack Obama King of America.

Here's what noted Republican Abraham Lincoln once wrote on the subject:

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us" but he will say to you "be silent; I see it, if you don't." The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."

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But what if you can create laws that violate the Constitution, and then obey those laws, the Constitution be damned? And what if being a Republican today means striving to expand presidential power as far as possible -- in fact beyond the power ever held by any king? And what if being a Democrat today means the very same thing?

Then you get something like H.R.1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and in particular Section 1034:

"Congress affirms that--
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who--
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President's authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities."

Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. This language would have put into law the perilous policies now acted upon outside of the law. President Obama's war in Libya is absolutely unconstitutional. But with this language on the books, Obama and every future president would have been able to legally, albeit unconstitutionally, justify launching almost any war at pleasure.  They would have just needed to claim an association between an enemy nation or organization or individual and al Qaeda or the Taliban.

This new "legal" language would, in many cases, have gotten presidents around the restrictions of the War Powers Resolution, which does not permit unauthorized wars when the United States has not been attacked, which requires the reporting of information to Congress that, in the case of Libya, has not been reported, and which only permits wars -- when it does permit wars -- for 60 or 90 days, deadlines that have now been reached in Libya. According to the War Powers Resolution:

"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."

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In addition:

"The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations."

In the case of Libya, Obama carefully avoided any consultation with Congress but took the time to consult with just about everybody else around the world.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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