Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pakistan and the unasked question

As a Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama managed to hang Senator Hillary Clinton's vote in favor of the use of force in Iraq around her neck and drown her candidacy with it.

When we went into Afghanistan in 2001, President Bush had Congressional approval.

Today I read this, from an interview with General David Petraeus:

The U.S. military will reserve the "right of last resort" to take out threats inside Pakistan, but it would prefer to enable the Pakistani military to do the job itself, Gen. David Petraeus said Monday in an exclusive interview with FOX News....

"I think we would never give up, if you will, the right of last resort if we assess something as a threat to us, noting that what we want to do is enable the Pakistanis, help them, assist them to deal with the problem that we now think, and their leaders certainly now think, represents the most important existential threat to their country, not just to the rest of the world," he said.

In a sense, this is nothing new. President Obama continued--and even escalated--the Bush administration policy of drone strikes into Pakistan.

But--and here's my question: when did the US Congress authorize the use of military force in Pakistan?

Military force in this case does simply mean boots on the ground, but any form of concerted, long-term effort not in direct response to a direct attack on the US.

An essential ingredient of the Constitutional process in the United States is that the legislature controls the declaration of war or hostilities, and that the President cannot simply start or widen a conflict without such approval.

Yet under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama we have finally seen the emergence and then the ratification of the concept of the truly imperial presidency: the President and his subordinates can now simply assert a right of last resort (which, in and of itself, sounds suspiciously like the Bush Doctrine)....

...and nobody in Congress or the media stands up and says, "Whoa, guys. There's a problem here."

It doesn't as much concern me that the President would assert such authority as it does that Congress would simply lay down for him.

And if you think this is not a recent development, note the number of times that Congress has referenced the War Powers Resolution during the last two decades:

On November 9, 1993, the House used a section of the War Powers Resolution to state that U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Somalia by March 31, 1994; Congress had already taken this action in appropriations legislation. More recently under President Clinton, war powers have been at issue in former Yugoslavia/Bosnia/Kosovo, Iraq, and Haiti, and under President George W. Bush in responding to terrorist attacks against the U.S. after September 11, 2001. After combat operations against Iraqi forces ended on February 28, 1991, the use of force to obtain Iraqi compliance with United Nations resolutions remained a War Powers issue, until the enactment of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq (P.L. 107-243), in October 2002.

That ripping sound is another little tear in the Constitution.

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