Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

The Power to Consult about War?

“In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found,” James Madison wrote in 1793, “than in that clause which asks the president to give Congress a courtesy call whenever he’s picked a new country to invade.”  Well, no, that’s not actually what he said.  It went more like this:

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man.

How to check that temptation?  In 1973, Congress tried the War Powers Resolution, a deeply flawed piece of legislation that has never so much as inconvenienced a president bent on war.  Former Secretaries of State Jim Baker and Warren Christopher – and a bipartisan panel of DC bigwigs – have a new answer: semi-mandatory consultation with Congress backed up by a dread “resolution of disapproval” (that the president can veto!).  Somehow I don’t think this is going to work.   

I haven’t had a chance to read the full report yet, but judging from the coverage and the op-ed Baker and Christopher penned for yesterday’s Times, the Commission’s proposal seems like an exercise in High Broderism.  For some serious attempts at putting teeth in the War Powers Resolution, check here and here

However, as I explain in the Cult of the Presidency, I’m skeptical that any of these megastatute solutions are going to work.  Because no Congress can truly bind a future Congress and no statute can force the courts to resolve separation of powers fights they’d rather duck, such legislative solutions tend to be about as effective as a dieter’s note on the refrigerator.  Unless and until ordinary voters demand that Congress stand and be counted on issues of war and peace–and defund unauthorized wars–we’ll continue as before.  Hey, maybe we are the change we’ve been waiting on.

Remembering Esequiel Hernandez

Tonight PBS is airing a documentary about Esequiel Hernandez. Hernandez was a high school student who was shot and killed by U.S. Marines on the Mexican border in 1997. The soldiers were on an anti-drug mission. After the killing, all military personnel were removed from the border, but President Bush ordered troops back to the border shortly after 9/11. For a 3 minute clip/preview, go here.

For more about the role of the military in the homeland, go here. For more about the militarization of police tactics, go here.

Post Editorial on FISA

Disturbed that a public outcry over retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies might snarl the FISA “compromise” in the Senate, this Washington Post editorial calls the debate: “A particularly disturbing example of the Internet tail wagging the legislative dog.”

Others might call it democracy.

The editorial goes on:

No one can claim with certainty that his or her communications were monitored. The likelihood of prevailing – or even getting very far – with such lawsuits is low. The litigation seems aimed as much at using the tools of discovery to dislodge information about what the administration actually did as it is at redressing unknown injuries.

Leaving aside the question of whether uncertainty about whether someone is listening to your calls isn’t itself a harm sufficient for standing, you have to wonder why the Post thinks that dislodging information about an illegal wiretapping programs is nefarious.

It goes on to discuss the telecoms:

Punishing them by forcing them to endure the cost and hassle of lawsuits would be counterproductive to securing such cooperation in the future, while offering little prospect of a useful outcome.

Preventing their cooperation in future illegal activity at the behest the President seems like a useful outcome to me.

Defending Nukes

Walter Pincus writes for the Washington Post today:

Most overseas storage sites for U.S. nuclear weapons, particularly in Europe, need substantial improvements in physical security measures and the personnel who guard the weapons, according to a newly available Air Force report.

I bet many Post readers saw that and wondered why in the world the United States still has nuclear weapons in Europe. The answer is no good reason. In the Cold War, some US war planners worried about being overrun by numerically superior Soviet forces and wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons to slow a Soviet invasion or deter it from occurring. The sense of this at the time was questionable, given the difficulty of limiting the exchange. Now there is no strategic justification for placing these forces in Europe – unless it’s to trade to Russia for reductions in their own tactical nuclear weapons arsenal, where security is more worrisome. But tactical nuclear weapons were absent from the Moscow Treaty on nuclear arsenals that the US and Russia negotiated in 2002, and no agreements have occurred since then.

The nukes in question are reportedly all relatively small B-61 bombs designed for delivery by F-16s. The disposition of our tactical nukes in Europe is secret, but according to this report from the Federation of American Scientists, we recently removed all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom, leaving 150-240 nuclear bombs scattered at six bases, some European run, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

All this gets to the absurdity of US nuclear weapons force posture – the maintenance of the famous Triad, which was always more a logroll among military communities in the Air Force and Navy than a strategic imperative. The US gets all the survivable firepower it needs, and then some, from our 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines. Today, the need for land-based nuclear missiles is questionable. The case for nuclear bombs delivered by aircraft is hard to articulate, let alone believe, especially when they are deployed to defend rich nations capable of defending themselves from a state, Russia, that is no longer our enemy.

Setting the Wayback Machine

Andrew Sullivan has been re-reading The War over Iraq, William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan’s pamphlet advocating for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The first thing that leaps to mind is how utterly dismissive and contemptuous Kristol and Kaplan were of those who were sounding cautionary notes before the war. Here they are on Chuck Hagel, who voted for the war but whom Kristol and Kaplan deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about it:

“Iraq’s uncertain future, as opposed to its totalitarian present, has become the principle [sic] concern of many realists. ‘What comes after a military invasion?’ Senator Chuck Hagel would like to know. ‘Who rules Iraq? Does the United States really want to be in Baghdad, trying to police Baghdad for twenty or thirty years?’”

Kristol goes on to mock this question with his usual assurance:

“Predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan.

“Unlike the Taliban, Saddam has little support among any ethnic group, Sunnis included, and the Iraqi opposition is itself a multi-ethnic force… [T]he executive director of the Iraq Foundation, Rend Rahim Francke, says, ‘we will not have a civil war in Iraq. This is contrary to Iraqi history, and Iraq has not had a history of communal conflict as there has been in the Balkans or in Afghanistan…’”

(Kristol and Kaplan fail to mention, of course, that Ms. Francke was not exactly an objective observer to this phenomenon; she was a lobbyist who spent years pushing for more U.S. action to oust Saddam Hussein.) This “there’s no history of ethnic turmoil in Iraq” trope was central to Kristol’s advocacy. In an article for The American Conservative in 2006 (not online, alas), I pointed out that

KristolOn–appropriately enough–April Fool’s Day 2003, on NPR Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol informed host Terry Gross that “there’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America…that the Shi’a can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shi’a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”

The whole thing would be laughable if there weren’t so many corpses over there.

Odd Phenomena

Jeffrey Goldberg looks in Matt Yglesias’ and my direction and declares that “it’s an odd phenomenon” that people care about the fact that Goldberg and James Kirchick are making false claims about what the president of Iran said. False claims that are leading people in the United States to want to go to war with Iran.

You know what else is an odd phenomenon? That Jeffrey Goldberg still hasn’t addressed the fact that he published a number of articles before the Iraq war falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda that helped get 4,000 Americans killed, drive America’s reputation into the ditch, flush $600,000,000,000 down the toilet and enhance Iran’s position in the region. That’s odd.