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The Failure of Congress

[ 102 ] February 8, 2013 |

Ultimately, if the president’s arbitrary war powers are going to be checked Congress needs to step up. I have a piece up at the Prospect explaining about why a Congress that will systematically obstruct nominees it has no objection to will continue to fail in its responsibilities:

Will Congress reassert its authority? It seems very unlikely. “Congress has never shown an interest in curbing the use of force or limiting the resources at a president’s disposal in an ongoing conflict,” says Andrew Polsky, author of Elusive Victories, a valuable new history of presidential war powers. “Simply put, lawmakers do not want ownership of a war, especially one that isn’t going well.” Because wars tend to cause the public to rally around the president at the beginning, but also tend to lose popularity the longer they continue, Congress has little incentive to check presidential war powers at any stage of the process.

The Framers believed that the branches of government would jealously guard their powers: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” Madison famously argued in Federalist #51. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Or, more precisely, political ambition sometimes compels legislators to delegate responsibility for difficult choices to the other branches. The distribution of war powers has become imbalanced, but not so much because the president has “usurped” congressional authority as that Congress has happily abdicated its proper role. The public needs to start blaming both parties in Congress as well as the White House for abuses in the War on Terror. Until it does, Congress is likely to continue passing the buck.

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  1. DrDick says:

    Have to say that sounds exactly right to me. Congress has the power to stop (or at least make explicitly illegal) these kinds of actions. Their failure to do so demonstrates tacit endorsement.

    • howard says:

      us old-timers remember that one of the proposed articles of impeachment against nixon that didn’t make it through the rodino committee was his illegal incursion into cambodia.

      and by illegal, i mean specifically violating congressional restrictions on spending money that way.

      and if you couldn’t get the 1974 congress to try and hold nixon accountable for violating congress’ own prohibition on expanding the war in vietnam into cambodia, my belief is you aren’t ever going to get congress to resist executive war-making.

      and therefore, in this context, as dr dick rightly says, that’s essentially an approval of executive war-making.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Howard (OT) — many thanks for all of the jazz tips, especially the Iyer and the Bay Face Willette, awesome. Am I wrong to kind of like the Chick Corea/Motian Bill Evans thing? If so, I’m not sure I want to be right…

        • howard says:

          scott, i’m sorry to say that i haven’t heard it yet, but i’ve seen good things about it.

          but based on what nate chinen wrote the other day, i feel highly confident in recommending another one i haven’t yet heard but intend to acquire when i have time later today: wayne shorter’s newest.

          i can say, with the absolute certainty of many listenings, that the preceding two shorter albums with this band are extraordinary, candidates for the top 10 of 21st century jazz to date.

          p.s. i trust you saw that the iyer won the jazz critics poll that francis davis now runs for rhapsody (the corea/motian/gomez came in 45th, which certainly suggests it’s a very fine album).

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Yeah, was wondering what you thought of the Shorter; I’ll probably pick it up anyway.

            • howard says:

              there have been some remarkable recordings in the 21st century from guys 75+: rollins’ live release in i think it was 2011; several of lee konitz recordings, including parallels, the band with mehldau/frissel/motian, and others; ornette coleman’s sound grammar; a number of recordings that motian was involved with; some of sam rivers’ work, including his band-band material released on mosaic and the black stars album with jason moran.

              but assuming the new shorter lives up to its two predecessors, i’d say he’s having the best century of any of these illustrious old-timers.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Sound Grammar was just astonishing, and his Town Hall concert was almost as good. I like the 2008 Rollins live excavation even more than the 2011 one…

                • howard says:

                  i didn’t count the earlier road shows because it’s only partly material from the 21st century whereas road shows 2 is all 21st century (complete with ornette!), but it’s a great album too, no question.

                  sound grammar absolutely is on my always-evolving best jazz albums of the 21st century and belongs in any consideration of ornette’s best, which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing in and of itself.

      • DrDick says:

        I also remember that and this has been building for a while.

        • howard says:

          drdick, i almost specifically said “us old timers like drdick and me” because i felt sure that YOU remembered!

          p.s. scott, regarding your ot, i sent a response with a handful of additional albums linked, and that caused the comment to fall into the “awaiting moderation” black hole, so you’ll have to rescue it if you want my deathless commentary!

  2. scott says:

    If it’s OK for the public to start blaming both parties in Congress and the White House for these abuses, what form should this blaming take to hold them accountable? Demonstrations? Withholding votes or money?

    • DF says:

      Right, I was firmly with the LGM “consensus,” if you will, about voting for the lesser evil in the presidential election.

      If we do that, though, I think it’s even more incumbent on us, the lesser evil voters, to strategize how to stop these abuses of war powers. But I don’t really know how to go about doing that. Any solution I’ve come up with seems fraught with problems.

      Further complicating this is that I suspect a large majority of the country either approves of, or does not care at all about, these abuses.

      • Murc says:

        Any solution I’ve come up with seems fraught with problems.

        That’s true, but it doesn’t mean they’re unworkable. Failure can happen.

        The only solution that seems semi-viable is to take your message to the people, convincing enough of them of them that no, really, abuses of war powers are a bad thing, and they should work to purge their political institutions of people who don’t give a fuck about that.

        From there you move on to primarying the fuck out of people.

        Further complicating this is that I suspect a large majority of the country either approves of, or does not care at all about, these abuses.

        If that is true, it basically means we’re fucked. There are ways to get things done in this country that involve ignoring the wishes of the large majority, but they generally involve entrenched interests subverting the system. It’s occasionally happened the other way around, but that’s rare.

      • If we do that, though, I think it’s even more incumbent on us, the lesser evil voters, to strategize how to stop these abuses of war powers. But I don’t really know how to go about doing that. Any solution I’ve come up with seems fraught with problems.

        Further complicating this is that I suspect a large majority of the country either approves of, or does not care at all about, these abuses.

        One strategy would be to attempt to form a broad coalition for a responsible end to the war. The Iraq War didn’t end with an immediate cessation of action and swift bug-out in 2007, but in a manner that the “Out Now!” faction and the “Easy Does It” faction could come to a rough consensus about.

        In that situation, there weren’t even any important security concerns for ordinary Americans at play, as opposed to the ongoing effort to squash al Qaeda. A broad coalition to “stop these abuses of war power” is going to have to built around dropping the non-starter idea that using force against al Qaeda is wrong and criminal and unconstitutional and an inherent “abuse,” and instead accept that there is a war going on, and talk it terms of exit strategies and defined end conditions.

        Here is a good place to start that conversation.

        • DF says:

          Isn’t there a great deal of space between the strawman “the non-starter idea that using force against al Qaeda is wrong and criminal and unconstitutional and an inherent ‘abuse’” and accepting that there is “a war going on?”

          I’m ok with using force against al Qaeda. I’m not as ok with the secrecy with which the Bush and then Obama administrations have demanded is necessary in doing so, nor am I at all ok with the legalistic re-defining of “imminence” and “associated groups.”

          Terrorists will never be destroyed; there likely will always be new ones. If this is a war on terror, it will never end, and these war powers are the new normal. This is not a good thing, in my opinion.

          • Yeah, “straw man.” I just made that up. Nobody really argues that using military force against al Qaeda is unconstitutional, or against international law, or is just the murder of brown people. That’s all in my head, I guess.

            Terrorists will never be destroyed; there likely will always be new ones.

            You should read the speech by Jeh Johnson that I linked to. He’s quite aware that terrorism can never be completely wiped out, and sets a different bar for transitioning from a war footing to a law enforcement/intel policy.

            If this is a war on terror, it will never end

            Indeed; that is why the Obama administration’s transition away from the concept of a “war on terror” to a war against a defined enemy is so important. A tactic can never be defeated. Terrorism, as a whole, can never been completely defeated. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, can be. Johnson does a good job describing what that would mean.

            I don’t think that denouncing the project to define the exit strategy is a particularly wise move if your goal is to end the war. That seems quite counterproductive.

            • david mizner says:

              You keep citing a parting-shot speech by a mid-level (now former) official as if it reflect Obama’s policy. It doesn’t, of course, not even close.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disposition_Matrix

              • Actually, I keep citing the words of his Secretary of Defense as well as the outgoing top Pentagon official. Oh, and his CIA Director is quoted in the article about Panetta agreeing.

                Not that any of that would indicate anything about administration policy. Especially in light of your link, which is about a different matter entirely.

            • DF says:

              It’s a strawman as it applies to your conversation with me, at least, because I didn’t say anything like that. Nor am I denouncing the search for exit strategies.

              I read Johnson’s speech. He makes many good points. I agree with him that, at some point, we have to realize AQ is defeated. But he doesn’t address HOW this realization of the end will occur, other than trusting that the people in charge are good people and will be morally compelled to do so. I might even buy that Obama would do this, realize that AQ is defeated and declare the war over. But if it doesn’t end during his term? If Rick Perry or someone of his ilk is the next president, with the war on AQ ongoing, and these powers further entrenched over the course of time? This prospect does not fill me with confidence.

    • NonyNony says:

      If you have majority opinion on your side, then running primary challenges on the issue is an effective way to get Congress to change its view.

      But of course that means working to change majority opinion. And as far as I’ve seen, the “majority opinion” is that most people don’t care about process they care about the end result. Occasionally you can convince them that a bad end result came about due to a flawed process, but most people seem to prefer to blame individuals rather than processes.

      And this is why this isn’t going to get traction without a lot of work. Because most people view the Iraq War as a failure of George W Bush and not as a failure of the process that allowed GWB to start the war in the first place. If GWB had been a competent President and had surrounded himself with people who pursued the war in a competent manner to a success, there would be a lot fewer people even talking about it – probably at about the same level as there were Democrats and liberals criticizing Clinton in the 90s (so substantially less criticism than Clinton actually got, since all of the Republicans and most of the conservatives would keep their lips shut for a conservative President waging a competent war, even if they didn’t like the process).

      • liberal says:

        If GWB had been a competent President and had surrounded himself with people who pursued the war in a competent manner to a success, there would be a lot fewer people even talking about it…

        Counterfactual. Given the limits the American people would have put on the fiscal cost of the war, there’s no way the occupation could have been a success—it would have cost far, far too much money to even be contemplated.

        • Murc says:

          it would have cost far, far too much money to even be contemplated.

          In the months following 9/11, if the Bush Administration had said they needed five trillion dollars in order fly to Mars and fight the terrorists there, that bill would probably have made it through Congress.

          • NonyNony says:

            I don’t know if it would have made it through Congress, but I suspect it would have had broad support of the majority of the American people.

            Americans these days are far, far less worried about their tax bills than Congress is – especially when it comes to funding things they see as important. Congress would have been the blockade in funding, and then we might have gotten to see if the “bully pulpit” could have convinced Congress to raise funds to go raze Iraq to the ground or not.

        • Green Caboose says:

          Unclear. The occupation began in March-April, 2003. There was roughly a 4 month window – a honeymoon period, if you will – before serious organized resistance movements really got going.

          We’ll never know what would have happened if:
          * Bremer hadn’t fired the Iraqi police force with no replacements
          * ACE-types swarmed in to replace infrastructure (water, electricity, bridges) destroyed with the invasion with better quality stuff immediately
          * A Marshall Plan-style was implemented immediately, employing literally millions with reasonably well-paying jobs

          In order words, keep the law enforcement structure in place, address people’s immediate needs and problems.

          Even shorter: follow the Pentagon’s own recommendations for successful occupations.

          Unfortunately, the arrogant psychopaths Cheney and Dumsfeld – and their brethren in PNAC – were so convinced that all they had to do was institute a flat tax, give no-bid, no-audit contracts to their buddies, and sit back and enjoy the miracle of the free market.

          Funny that. Iraq was truly a grand experiment in the glory of an unfettered free market with minimal government intervension. With expected results.

          But, I suspect that a competent occupation may have done much better.

  3. david mizner says:

    The war in Iraq ended because it was going terribly and Americans were dying. The war in Afghanistan will end (sort of) for the same reason.

    The beauty of the Terror War is that few Americans are dying and if they did, in a big attack, it would only lead to escalation. Moreover, it’s a war against a fluid, undefined and probably undefinable thing — AQ and associated forces — a self-perpetuating war that cannot be won and cannot be lost — or perhaps, that can only be both won and lost — a war that is being waged primarily through remote control and covert special ops missions. Communism was a relatively concrete and measurable thing in that states were involved.

    American war-makers have succeeded: they got their forever war.

    • Cody says:

      I thought we already got that with the Drug War. Then again, this is more like the evolution. It wasn’t enough to constantly have police and task forces doing it, now we need a whole military apparatus.

    • An alternate view on the duration and end of the war against al Qaeda.

      I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.

      At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible

      • Murc says:

        I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States

        … except that’s impossible.

        One person who considers himself a member of al-Qaeda is capable of attempting a strategic attack against the US armed only with a box cutter.

        Hell, I’m perfectly capable of attempting to violently overthrow the government, and I’m a 130 pound weakling with few friends and no formal training.

        At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible

        A number of us are of the opinion we reached that point many, many years ago, and regard the failure of our leaders to see that (or to willfully ignore it in order to keep playing war) as a great moral crime.

        • Your avoiding a substantive point with a semantic quibble.

          There is a reason why al Qaeda could bring down the WTC and the Abu Nidal organization couldn’t.

          Try to think about the idea, instead of finding a way to define it out of existence so you don’t have to think about it: Jeh, like Panetta before him, is talking about ending the war by knocking al Qaeda down from an organization capable of blowing a hole in a U.S. Navy destroyer, carrying out the 9/11 attacks, or simultaneously carrying out mass-casualty attacks on two U.S. embassies, to an organization more like an ordinary terrorist group that might kill three people outside the gates of embassy in Ankara.

          Both Panetta and Jeh explicitly address the point that the total elimination of any level of threat from them cannot be the intended end game.

        • A number of us are of the opinion we reached that point many, many years ago

          A rather larger number of us think that elevating your own much-less-informed judgment on this question over that of the people who do this for a living and have much greater resources at their disposal is roughly equivalent to people who note that it is snowing outside so the climate scientists must all be wrong.

          Of course, that’s totally different, because those people have an ideological ax to grind which would lead them to that same conclusion regardless of the actual facts of the matter. You wouldn’t do that, would you, Murc?

          • DocAmazing says:

            The people who do this for a living wouldn’t happen to be the ones who failed to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union, the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the absence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, would they?

            ‘Cuz I think that climate science is a lot more reliable than that.

            • The people who do this for a living are also the ones who said we’d be out of Iraq in December 2011; that the Libya war wasn’t an entrenched stalemate, and that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US.

              They, such as Jeh Johnson, also seem to be quite aware of the limitation on their ability to accurately put specific timing on when particular events will come to pass – which, come to think about it, is quite similar to climate scientists.

              I’ve still yet to see a reason why Internet Commenter Guy should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assessing the capabilities of a trans-national terrorist organization.

              • DocAmazing says:

                ‘Cuz Internet Commenter Guy is right about as often as the old Kremlinologists were, and more often than teevee meteorologists.

                John Stockwell had the CIA figured out pretty well. He’s still worth reading.

                • Shorter DocAmazing: “OK, you’ve covered your ass.”

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Yeah, that good ol’ CIA, they’ll give you the unvarnished truth every time.

                  And you wonder why we’re mired in numerous bloodlettings?

                • So, therefore, let’s just assume that the truth is whatever is momentarily convenient for the internet pissing match we happen to be in at any particular moment.

                  BTW, Jeh was as the Pentagon, not CIA.

                  But I know, I know – we can’t listen to them, either. Only bloggers we already agree with.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  The Pentagon uses the CIA as a source of both raw and processed intelligence (as well as the DIA, the NSA, the various service branches’ intelligence groups, and, to a lesser extent, the FBI). If you want to split hairs over which exact arm of the intelligence apparatus we’re dealing with, enjoy. I bring up Stockwell/CIA because his findings were clear: trusting the wise men to be wise is a terrible and elementary mistake.

                • So, therefore, let’s just believe whatever is most convenient for our eternal, unchanging ideological narrative.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Seems you’ve arrived at that point.

                • Well, you know me: ideologically married to wars. Hence, my opposition to the Iraq War and the proposed Iran War.

                  You know what? The guy whose answer never changes based on different circumstances doesn’t get to accuse the guy who keeps insisting on a close study of the particulars before coming to a conclusion of ideological rigidity.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  the guy who keeps insisting on a close study of the particulars before coming to a conclusion
                  …always seems to conclude that We Don’t Do Those Sorts Of Things (As Long As A Democrat Is In Office, And If We Do It’s Justifiable).

                  Very flexible.

                • So, out of curiosity: let’s say that there was some security-related matter that you decided the President should make up his mind about based on the actual security, military, and political conditions on the ground.

                  How, exactly, would you go about ascertaining those conditions, of the intelligence and military resources set up to do so are so utterly useless for the task?

                  Do a search on Greenwald’s blog? Eat some peyote and chant “Mossedegh” until you have a vision? What’s the plan here?

              • Cody says:

                Are we actually listening to the people who do this for a living?

                I was under the distinct impression we were listening to Panetta, Obama, or McCain – politicians. I don’t really get to have a chat with CIA analysts very often.

                (As far as high-ranking Intelligence agency members, I’m not sure they do this for a living either. Most of them are political appointments)

      • david mizner says:

        He says as he’s leaving his not-very-powerful position in government. It was a good speech though.

        • He says as he’s leaving his not-very-powerful position in government.

          Just as Leon Panetta said as he was beginning his second-most-powerful position in the U.S. government.

          • david mizner says:

            ? That’s a far cry from what Johnson said, who actually called for a winding down of the war. Administration officials have occasionally said they’re close to defeating AQ only to backtrack–

            http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/10/16/obama_no_longer_saying_al_qaeda_is_on_its_heels

            It’s all part of the dance, triumphalist talk to justify the war, followed by dire warnings to justify it.

            They can’t very well say they’ve defeated AQ when groups they claim are part of the group are doing quite well.

            • That’s a far cry from what Johnson said, who actually called for a winding down of the war.

              First of all, Johnson gave his speech on November 30, 2012. Panetta assumed office on July 1, 2011. A lot has happened in between. But I don’t see anywhere in Johnson’s speech where he “actually called for a winding down of the war.” Indeed, he said In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.”

              It’s all part of the dance, triumphalist talk to justify the war, followed by dire warnings to justify it.

              Phew, that’s a relief! I thought it might be an actual concept you might have to think about for how American policy might change. It’s good to know it can be dismissed entirely, and we can go back to the usual expressions of futility.

              • I refuse to be drawn into a conversation about whether something that is not “the CIA operating black-site prisons” is exactly the same thing as “the CIA operating black-site prisons.”

                Go ahead, have the last word. Get as technical as you want about there being no difference between a foreign government operating a prison and the CIA operating a prison.

      • DocAmazing says:

        The Cold War ended only when the USSR formally ceased to exist. Since al-Qaeda has no formal structure and no one to announce their dissolution, I sincerely doubt we’ll see an end to this “war”. As long as there are three pissed-off young men with Quranic names and the ability to score a gallon of gas and some empty Fanta bottles, we’re going to be hearing about al-Qaeda.

        This war is just too lucrative, and suits the military-industrial/intelligence-law enforcement complex’s needs too well to ever let it go.

        • As long as there are three pissed-off young men with Quranic names and the ability to score a gallon of gas and some empty Fanta bottles, we’re going to be hearing about al-Qaeda.

          Indeed, which is why Jeh said, “At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats.”

          We will be “hearing about al Qaeda.” There will still need to be anti-al-Qaeda policy “for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources are primarily responsible.” Isn’t that exactly the alternate policy you’ve been saying we should be pursuing for years? That it is possible to adopt a strategy other than a shooting war – the type of strategy that John Kerry outlined in his book?

          I don’t think the cause of making that policy transition happen is served by proclaiming such a transition to be impossible. I think it’s better served by talking in terms of how and when to make that transition.

          This war is just too lucrative, and suits the military-industrial/intelligence-law enforcement complex’s needs too well to ever let it go.

          The drone war is not particularly lucrative; it’s a rounding error compared to the Iraq War – which was also never going to end, and the bases never abandoned, and the troop presence never withdrawn, because of the vaunted MIC. Until it did.

          • DocAmazing says:

            And the drone war will continue, and the FBI will continue to arrange terrorism-entrapment stings, and special operations types will continue to bounce in and out of various African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations because we are at war with al-Qaeda; and domestic surveillance (partially also by drone) and off-the-books imprisonments and assassinations, quite possibly of our own neighbors, will continue, because we are at war with al-Qaeda; and intelligence analysts will continue to skew and stovepipe data to support the ongoing hostilities, because we are at war with al-Qaeda.

            But there will be only a skeleton force in Iraq and in Afghanistan (if you don’t count SpecOps), so it’s all good.

            • And the drone war will continue, and the FBI will continue to arrange terrorism-entrapment stings, and special operations types will continue to bounce in and out of various African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations because we are at war with al-Qaeda; and domestic surveillance (partially also by drone) and off-the-books imprisonments and assassinations, quite possibly of our own neighbors, will continue, because we are at war with al-Qaeda; and intelligence analysts will continue to skew and stovepipe data to support the ongoing hostilities, because we are at war with al-Qaeda.

              Dude, RTFA.

              • DocAmazing says:

                Like I said: no one to surrender, so we’re going to go on forever–just at a lower intensity, and with somewhat fewer uniformed soldiers.

                • Just like the end of the Iraq War, you can tell that the “endless war” people are starting to realize they might be wrong when they start working to blur the lines that they, themselves, formerly argued were so bright.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  I spend time at the VA, Joe. There are still people coming back freshly damaged from the now-ended Iraq War.

                  The presence of the US military continues. It’s nice that we had that ceremony & stuff, though.

                • See what I mean?

                  He won’t even admit the Iraq War ended.

                • Anti-War says:

                  Ummm…that’s because it, you know, HASN’T ended, joe. I think he would know since he sees people come back injured and maimed every day from the supposedly now-over Iraq War.

                  The USA Occupation continues.

                • And the pancakes. Did you know there are still over 30,000 pancakes in Iraq?

                • Anti-War says:

                  I fail to find any humour in endless war or the casualties it produces joe, but maybe you do.

                  Isn’t traumatic brain injury and birth defects from depleted uranium just soooo hilarious?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Well, pitas, anyway.

                • You are hilarious.

                  Pancakes are hilarious.

                  Little kids who think that you can’t see who they are if they put their hands over their eyes are hilarious.

                • Well, pitas, anyway.

                  THAT’S NOT FUNNY, YOU HEARTLESS BASTARD!

                  Remember, before the MK412whatever episode, when there were still people who weren’t onto this guy?

            • Scott P. says:

              In other words, we live in a fallen irremediably corrupt world, and have no recourse but to wait for the End of Days.

              Liberal apocalypticism is getting to be increasingly hard to differentiate from conservative apocalypticism.

              • DocAmazing says:

                And liberal apologism for ongoing military adventures (oops–can’t call ‘em military! too few uniformed combatants!) yields results increasingly difficult to discern from conservative militarism.

                Let us know what your plan is to rein in our miltary/intelligence adventurism. We’re all ears.

                • And liberal apologism for ongoing military adventures (oops–can’t call ‘em military! too few uniformed combatants!) yields results increasingly difficult to discern from conservative militarism.

                  Deaths from the Iraq War are estimated to be between 250,000 and 1,000,000.

                  Deaths from drone strikes are estimated to be about 3000.

                  It’s difficult for DocAmazing to discern a difference. Please take his ideas seriously.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Deaths from the Iraq War are estimated to be between 250,000 and 1,000,000

                  …and counting. But, of course, it isn’t a “war” any longer, so the ongoing death toll doesn’t count.

                • …because only when the United States is fighting a war does anyone in Iraq die.

  4. rea says:

    Well, of coure you’re not going to get effective opposition from Congress, given that the Republicans, while sometimes complaining about the president’s specific actions on the principle that everything a Democrat (and particularly, Obama) does is wrong, generally think that the Democrats are a bunch of wussies, that what the country needs is more and bloodier wars, and that the war powers of a Republican president are essentially unlimited.

  5. Joe says:

    People are repeatedly upset that the Obama Administration is not showing self-restraint regarding powers given to them by Congress and the courts (appeals to “constitutional rights” alleged violated here are repeatedly aspirational). It’s easier to focus ire one one person but if we want to restrain the dogs of war, we need to be honest with ourselves who is responsible.

  6. Congress has been perfectly willing to “step up” to check Obama’s powers to wage the war against al Qaeda when they don’t support how he is doing it.

    In 2009, they acted to check his power to close Guantanamo and move detainees into the civilian prison an court system. They succeeded.

    In 2011, they stepped up and tried to check his power to treat newly-arrested terrorist suspects as criminal defendants within the civilian justice system, and mandate that he put them into indefinite military detention. It didn’t work that time.

    Polsky misidentifies what’s going on. We don’t have a Congress that is upset at the breadth of the powers claims and actions taken by the White House in prosecuting this war, but is too feeble or afraid to step up. We have a Congress that is more hawkish than the President, and more amenable to executive power in its prosecution, and which is only interested in stepping up in the cause of pushing him to go further.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      This is true; the power is a one-way ratchet.

      • the power is a one-way ratchet

        Obama gave back the power to torture people.

        He gave back the power to have the CIA run black-site prisons.

        I suspect his second term is going to involve an effort from Obama to declare the war against al Qaeda over and, combined with the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, give back all of the powers in the AUMF.

        Reductions in presidential war-making powers are possible, but only if they come from the White House.

        • Cody says:

          I suspect his second term is going to involve an effort from Obama to declare the war against al Qaeda over

          I would like this Joe. I just don’t see it. However, I cannot claim to know what Obama will do. Early on his efforts seemed sincere and good – unfortunately if he ever wanted to accomplish anything it had to be an executive order. Even Democrats in the Senate will not vote to limit Presidential power it seems.

          Congress doesn’t seem remotely interested in ever accomplishing anything except make rich people richer.

          • I just don’t see it.

            A lot of people didn’t see the withdrawal from Iraq coming, either.

            I think people on the left have been so indoctrinated into the concept of “eternal war” that it’s difficult for them to conceive of anything else.

          • I think it is entirely likely that there will be a fight between the White House and Congress about whether to end the war. Congress has, on multiple occasions, pushed the White House to be more hawkish, and to use powers it didn’t want, such as in the area of indefinite detention.

            When this fight comes, I hope that the people who want to end the war will actually join the fight on the side of ending the war, instead of holding themselves aloof and declaring that the people who are leading the fight don’t have the “moral standing” to do so, or otherwise sabotaging their own interests. I can still remember when the fight over torture broke out into the open in 2009, and Glenn Greenwald’s contribution was to push the pro-torture Republicans’ false talking point that Nancy Pelosi had been briefed, so the anti-torture side was blah blah blah.

            • david mizner says:

              You mean you want to end the war? For years you’ve been telling us the war against AQ is right and good? When did you come to this conclusion?

              • I’ve wanted the war against al Qaeda to end eventually since it began.

                It isn’t just bad, dumb wars that need to be brought to an end. Good, necessary, righteous wars shouldn’t go on forever, either.

                Like Jeh Johnson says in the speech in which he argues for the necessity and righteousness of the war against al Qaeds:

                “War” must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. War permits one man – if he is a “privileged belligerent,” consistent with the laws of war — to kill another. War violates the natural order of things, in which children bury their parents; in war parents bury their children. In its 12th year, we must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the “new normal.” Peace must be regarded as the norm toward which the human race continually strives.

                • david mizner says:

                  Wait, so you want it to end now or “eventually”?

                  From your comments you seem to want to end it now. Why now and not last year or the year before?

                  I opposed it from the beginning.

                • Eventually. When the actual conditions, as described by Panetta and Johnson, are accomplished.

                  From your comments you seem to want to end it now.

                  I seem to have left you with the wrong impression, then. I do think we will be able to achieve those conditions fairly soon, though.

                  I opposed it from the beginning.

                  I can only imagine how many months of intensive research and thoughtful consideration it took you to arrive at that conclusion. Boy, your position was really up for grabs for a while there, amirite?

        • david mizner says:

          There’s no way he’ll declare an end to the war on AQ. The best he’ll do is to do what he did in his inaugural speech, hint at and to perpetual war (while continuing to wage it.)

          And this is wrong: “He gave back the power to have the CIA run black-site prisons.”

          His EO simply closed down certain CIA black sites; the CIA still has the power to run secret facilities: indeed, it’s doing just that in Somalia.

          http://www.thenation.com/article/161936/cias-secret-sites-somalia#

          • There’s no way he’ll declare an end to the war on AQ. The best he’ll do is to do what he did in his inaugural speech, hint at and to perpetual war (while continuing to wage it.)

            Thank you, guy who kept telling us that the occupation of Iraq would never end.

            the CIA still has the power to run secret facilities:

            No, it does not. They are explicitly forbidden from doing so.

            indeed, it’s doing just that in Somalia

            The linked article notes that the prison is run by the Somali government.

            • david mizner says:

              I’ll bet you any amount of money that the war against AQ will not end in Obama’s term. It’s a little funny, a little sad that you think it might.

              Anyway, you’re right that his EO banned CIA detention centers; I just checked. Which is why the CIA is running the secret facility in Somalia but staffing it with Somalis.

              • I’ll bet you any amount of money that the war against AQ will not end in Obama’s term. It’s a little funny, a little sad that you think it might.

                Forgive me, but your predictions have a bit of a record. So do mine.

                Which is why the CIA is running the secret facility in Somalia but staffing it with Somalis.

                Because, of course, those people can’t possibly run their own prisons.

              • The last time someone used the word “sad” to describe one of my predictions, it was “sad, really” to say that Obama wasn’t going to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in the 2011 debt ceiling deal.

                I’ve been reading your thoughts for a long time, david. You are very certain of your superiority, and I can’t for the life of me understand why.

        • NonyNony says:

          I suspect his second term is going to involve an effort from Obama to declare the war against al Qaeda over

          You cannot declare the war against al Qaeda to be over because it is not in anyone who claims to be a part of al Qaeda’s best interest for the US war against al Qaeda to be over. And it never will be. So as soon as some president has the guts enough to say “the war against al Qaeda is over” some al Qaeda cell will make it a top priority to do something that will kill people. And given enough cells with enough time, they’ll succeed – you can’t stop every threat and they’ll use that fact to keep the “war” going.

          Once the initial error was made to characterize this as a war against a foe instead of a police action against a group of murderers, the ball on when to end this was put into al Qaeda’s hands. Hell not even al Qaeda’s hands – anyone who wants to call themselves al Qaeda gets to call the shots.

          and, combined with the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, give back all of the powers in the AUMF.

          Sure he can do that, and the next President that comes along will get whatever he wants too. Because the President actually can’t do anything to change this – it has to come from Congress taking back their power and jealously guarding it instead of treating it like a hot potato that they’re more than happy to throw to whoever happens to sit in the Oval Office.

          • And given enough cells with enough time

            That’s the point: al Qaeda actually has to be ground down enough that declaring the military phase of the war to be over is actually true.

            If al Qaeda is actually reduced down to the level of an ordinary terror group, law enforcement and intel will be adequate to provide a reasonable level of security, without a military component.

            But the work to articulate this has to start now. The idea that the complete elimination of all terrorist threats is not the end game – that there is another bar to clear which is short of that – has to gain traction among our populace and political leaders, if the war is ever to end.

  7. TT says:

    “Simply put, lawmakers do not want ownership of a war, especially one that isn’t going well.”

    But they end up getting political ownership anyway. The GOP lost Congress in 2006 because of Iraq, and the party’s total lack if interest in oversight certainly didn’t help. In theory, a more vigorous assertion of war powers prerogative and oversight by Congress might have the twin benefit of producing better executive policy, while also providing political benefit (or at least a partial inoculation). If you’re going to end up owning a war politically at some point no matter what you do, you might as well just do your Constitutionally-mandated job.

  8. One of the Blue says:

    This has been going on a looong time, going clear back to the undeclared war against France, and the Northwest Indian War that began in Confederation days, but didn’t conclude until 1795. Other instances, every Indian war since then, US participation in the multinational force that invaded China during the Boxer Rebellion, the war against the Philippine insurrection, Wilson’s incursions into Mexico in 1914 and 1916, the Haiti invasion of 1915, US interventions during the Russian Civil War, the war against Sandino in Nicaragua in the 1920′s, etc., etc., etc.

    It’s hard to break a nearly 200-year habit.

    • rea says:

      If you look back at the time of the Founders, most wars then were not declared, and the wars that were formally declared tended to be declared years after the fighting actually started. Washington started a major undeclared war at Ft. Necessity back in 1754, and as president, fought the Whiskey Rebellion without any kind of Congressional declaration. Most US wars since have been undeclared. One might conclude that the exclusive Congressional power to “declare” war has never been regarded as preventing the president in his discretion from sending US troops out to fight. The only effective Congressional check on the president’s war powers is the power of the purse.

      • Perhaps the only novelty here is that Congress actually took it on itself to declare war against this non-state actor, when they usually just let the President act on his own C-in-C authority.

        • One of the Blue says:

          I might be mistaken, but I think the AUMF might have been required under the War Powers Act, as was the resolution that authorized the initial Gulf War. Given the history, the War Powers Act is just about the furthest Congress ever has reached to control in a general way the President’s war-making powers.

          • You’re right. Since the AUMF was issued for both the al Qaeda and the Afghan War, it was clearly required, because the latter was to be an ongoing, extended, continuous operation involving American forces engaging in hostilities.

    • Paula says:

      GWB wasn’t an exception, only an extremity.

      It seems like most people on the lefty blogs either don’t know or don’t care about that.

      But you need to understand that history if you’re going to strategize against it.

  9. Anti-War says:

    Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace…just as Orwell envisioned, and certain enablers of Obama are all too happy to lick the jackboot.

  10. Paula says:

    Opponents of endless war could begin by promoting large-scale investment in industries that can compete with the defense-related manufacturing in terms of providing jobs.

  11. burritoboy says:

    At the end of the day, the US Congress is simply structurally too weak to fight the Presidency (two-year terms filled by randoms from more or less non-existent “states” is an inherently weak structure). I don’t think this can be fixed without making the US Congress / Senate into a parliamentary system.

    And, I would argue that, ultimately, this is probably a good thing, as well as probably being unavoidable. I don’t think the concept of citizen-legislators as central actors is really sustainable, so the eventual victory of the executive bureaucracy is a positive development.

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