Congress outgunned when it comes to war

Published 9:51 am Tuesday, January 30, 2007

By Staff
Watching the huge anti-war rally in Washington with Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and – making her first appearance in 34 years – Jane Fonda reminded me that despite presidents deploying armed forces abroad more than 200 times, only five times did Congress formally declare war: the War of 1812, the war against Mexico in 1846, the Spanish-American War in 1898 and World Wars I and II.
Not Vietnam.
Not Afghanistan.
Not Iraq.
Not in my lifetime. That pattern ought to give us some clues.
A friend in Maryland who went said it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, otherwise surrounded by cold, dreary days.
There's an old saying that the president proposes, Congress disposes, which is supposed to mean that when a commander in chief takes military initiative, the ultimate say rests with the legislative branch. We see how well that's working.
President George W. Bush seems intent on getting impeached after disregarding the Iraq Study Group and his fellow Americans speaking loudly in the midterm elections and sending more troops, although I'll give him one thing: Iraq is not Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was not intent on sending suicide bombers to kill us.
Born in war, American revolutionaries agonized over such powers in writing the Constitution, trying to strike some sort of balance between the need to field armed forces swiftly without creating a tyrant who could wield such power arbitrarily.
That's why the founding fathers sided with the people and turned to Congress, the most broadly representative and directly accountable branch of our federal government.
Our system of checks and balances promised perpetual conflict between the president and lawmakers. And presidents consistently dominate this test of political wills.
It's never happened, but imagine if Congress compelled the president to undertake a military action against his will.
That supports the notion that democratic deliberation helps preserve peace.
Disillusionment with Vietnam gave us the 1973 War Powers Act over Richard Nixon's veto.
It sought to restrict a chief executive's capacity to send troops overseas without explicit congressional authority.
But no president since has seen fit to recognize its constitutionality and it has not been subjected to such a Supreme Court test. Congress maintains the power of the purse, but legislators naturally pause or even paralyze at the thought of withholding resources from troops in the field.
Eight: Percent of Americans who actually read blogs.
Seven: Number of reality shows Rob and Amber Mariano have been on, including getting married on TV, when they become "Amazing Race" all-stars Feb. 18. When I interviewed her the weekend of the 2006 Miss Dowagiac pageant, I never imagined Amber would still be on TV.
Obits: Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Vern Ruhle, 55, died Jan. 20 in Houston from complications of treatment for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. He also pitched for the Astros, Cleveland and the California Angels from 1974-86.
E. Howard Hunt, 88, who helped organize the Watergate break-in, died Jan. 23 in a Miami hospital after a long bout with pneumonia. "I will always be called a Watergate burglar, even though I was never in the damn place," the author of more than 80 books told the Miami Herald in 1997. "But it happened. Now I have to make the best of it." Twenty-five men went to prison. Hunt spent 33 months in jail and was bitter about President Richard M. Nixon being allowed to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.
Race-based caucuses: Presidential aspirant Tom Tancredo said Jan. 25 the existence of the Congressional Black Caucus and other race-based groups of lawmakers amount to segregation that should be abolished.
"It is utterly hypocritical for Congress to extol the virtues of a color-blind society while officially sanctioning caucuses that are based solely on race," the Colorado Republican said.