Wednesday, April 04, 2007


A Little More about Presidential Powers

In my previous blog on this subject I argued that there is a weakness in our constitutional system that allows a stubborn and ill-informed President to conduct a war in a way that is harmful to the nation's armed forces as well as to the nation itself. However, the cure for this possibility is not to change the Constitution so as to take away the President's authority as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. What is needed first is a recognition of the difference between tactics and strategy.

Strategy, like other policies of government, should be decided by a representative legislature. Otherwise, we do not have a republican form of government; we do not have democracy. Strategy includes deciding whether to wage war and on what country to wage it. Strategy includes deciding how big a war to wage. Strategy includes deciding whether to go all out to win a war or to pursue the war with limited objectives. These are all strategic decisions and should be made by the people's representatives.

Tactics include the means and techniques of waging war. Shall one of our armies attack on the right or on the left or in the center? How many troops and what kind shall we use for laying siege to or occupying one of the enemy's cities? Shall we attack a seaport from the sea with our navy, from the air with our air force, of from land with our army? These are decisions that I believe are tactical, not strategic. The President and his generals and admirals should have a free hand regarding the choice and application of tactics.

A serious problem with the current war in Iraq is that there is no consensus regarding strategy. We started the war with the presumption that all would be over in six weeks. Iraq's army could be defeated easily, Baghdad occupied, and Saddam Hussein replaced by a new President of our choosing. We had one lined for the job: Ahmad Chalabi. Things didn't work out as expected. At that point, there should have been a debate and a new decision regarding our strategy, our goal in Iraq. There was no such debate. Both houses of Congress were controlled by members of the President's party. Rather than debate our changed goals in Iraq, these party leaders were motivated to protect the President from the embarrassment of having to agree to a new and much less ambitious set of goals for what we could reasonably accomplish. There was no debate. In fact, even with the change of party control in both houses, there is no substantive debate today about a new strategy, a new set of goals for Iraq.

Instead of debating and coming to a consensus about what we wish as a nation to accomplish in Iraq we are now in a pissing contest about whether the President has absolute power. We are arguing about whether "Commander in Chief" confers upon George Bush the power of an absolute monarch. We should be debating and coming to an agreement about what we can still accomplish in Iraq, given the armed forces we have and our ability to engage such countries as Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic effort to limit the civil war in Iraq and eventually to create an effective government for that country that does not involve putting another strong man, like Saddam, in power.

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