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U.S. Congress’s Power to Declare War intended to thwart tyranny

According to an AP story I found at newsmax.com, Rahm Emanuel has joined the chorus of GOP Chair Michael Steele’s critics re the Afghanistan deployment.  He says that “it was ‘horrible’ and ‘wrong'” for Steele “to describe the conflict in Afghanistan as a mistaken war of President Barack Obama’s choosing.  Emanuel says all of America ends up at war when a president decides to send troops into combat.”

As usual with the Obama faction, this statement ignores the provisions of the U.S. Constitution.  All of America doesn’t end up at war simply because the executive commits American troops to battle.  In fact, the U.S. Constitution makes it the exclusive prerogative of Congress to declare war on behalf of the nation.  This implies Congressional deliberation and judgment about the executive’s decision to commit troops to combat. As I see it, Rahm Emanuel’s false assertion that an executive branch decision is all that it takes to commit the nation to war is part of an ongoing historic process aimed at eliminating all sense of the fact that a president’s commitment of troops to battle does not put the nation at war unless and until it is formally recognized by the will of the people, in a separate and specific vote by their legislative representatives intended to express their will.

The legislators cannot ascertain the will of their constituents unless those constituents are free to articulate their views.  It is therefore not wrong and horrible but proper and necessary for citizens to critique a president’s initial or ongoing deployment of U.S. troops, at least until their representatives have voted to declare war.

But for several decades Congress has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to declare the people’s recognition that a state of war exists. The commitment of troops to action therefore takes place in the absence of any formal national commitment to war. In the case of Afghanistan this is compounded by the fact that the man who presently claims to wield the U.S. government’s executive power entered Office saying that there was no war on terrorism.

So when Emanuel says America is at war, what war is he talking about?  Since Congress never voted for war as the Constitution requires, how does what’s happening in Afghanistan in any way involve the choice of the nation?  (The fact that Congress funds the military connotes nothing more than the nation’s refusal to abandon the lives of our troops.  Unless we are willing to allow presidents to blackmail the nation into war whenever they choose, this care for our troops is in no way a substitute for the declaration of war the Constitution entrusts, as a separate matter, to the legislative branch.)

It has been a grave mistake to allow the practice of declaring war to fall into desuetude. It is more than a legalistic artifact of international law and practice.  It is a barrier against the institution of perpetual war that is one of the standard means of imposing tyranny.  It is therefore an essential safeguard of our democratic, constitutional republic.

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