The Man Who Would Be King

America is in a constitutional crisis.  A sitting president consistently exercises power not granted to him by the U.S. Constitution, and he does so capriciously, defying the attempts of other branches -- given the responsibility to check the executive branch -- to restrain his excess.  The banks, the manufacturing sector, the health care sector, and now the energy sector are all under the de facto control of this determined and brazen individual.  But while U.S. government involvement in the private sector is alarming -- even New Deal power-seizures were rolled back by legislators elected to repudiate the expansionist vision of President Roosevelt -- abuse of war-making authority is another matter entirely.  The man who makes war without the approval of elected legislators is no longer a president, but a king.   

President Obama invades Libya without even a pretense to legitimacy, blatantly ignoring the provisions of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which is generally acknowledged to be the rule of thumb in foreign excursions of any nature.  Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of deploying the military abroad and must seek written authorization from Congress after 60 days, followed by a further 30-day withdrawal.  American involvement in Libya long ago violated this requirement.

Congress is ultimately to blame for the migration of the presidency beyond its constitutional limits.  But the constitutional sins of Congress lie more in the realm of omission than commission.  On the issue of rule by executive fiat, Congress has been virtually silent.  The most that is heard are restrained grumblings in committees and half-baked schemes to reclaim stolen power, but no concrete action has manifested.  In the past, the power of the purse would be wielded against the perpetrators of executive malfeasancei.  But instead of restraining the executive branch, Congress has become a willing party to the benign dictatorship of the "unitary executive," rubber-stamping illicit acts, e.g. unilateral decisions to go to war.

This was the case in Bosnia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and pretty much every war of the late twentieth century.  President George H.W. Bush even went as far as rejecting congressional war-making power altogether, saying, "I didn't have to get permission from some old goat in Congress to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait"ii.  When challenged, President Bush replied, "I have the constitutional authority, many attorneys having so advised me."  But the only constitutional authority granted to the president in time of war is found in Article II, Sec. 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution:

The President shall be the commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States...when called into the actual service of the United States.

If the military is not "called in the actual service of the United States," the president has no such authority.

But U.S. war-making power has even migrated beyond internal constitutional disputes.  The Balkans campaign was initiated by the Javier Solana, secretary-general of NATO, totally usurping even theoretical presidential war-making authority, as well as raising significant questions of sovereignty.  American planes were ordered into action by an international bureaucrat, and only later was this act validated by U.S. officials.  Plainly and simply, Congress has abdicated its sole legislative power to other institutions both foreign and domestic, and now Congress refuses to reclaim this power.

Vietnam, one of many wars fought under false pretenses and approved in international forums before being authorized by the U.S. Congress, set a new precedent for the untold damage to life and property that could be possible in the absence of accountable elected officials declaring war.

In order to prevent future conflicts of this magnitude started without oversight, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, overriding a presidential veto.  The War Powers Resolution specifically limited the time during which a sitting U.S. president could deploy troops and other resources overseas without explicit congressional authorization to 60 days, after which time official funding of the excursion must commence, else the resources deployed must be recalled.  President Obama, unlike the hawkish Bush and Clinton before him, has shamelessly skirted this requirement and now holds that Libya is not a "real" war.  Truman did this too during the Korean "police action."  Several years and over 30,000 dead later, Americans felt different.

PR notwithstanding, if President Obama is allowed to deploy troops at whim for any period of time he so chooses, America has ceased to be a democratic republic.  Liberty cannot survive perpetual war.  War becomes a means to gain power at home instead of protecting freedom abroad.  Broad seizures of power like those found in the consistently renewed PATRIOT Act as well as new CIA assassination programs targeting citizen due process are evidence of this fact.

The founders understood this principle all too well, and warned future generations.  In Federalist #26, Alexander Hamilton, one of the many contributors to the Constitution, worried about the misuse of the military by future presidents in "schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community."  Hamilton surmised, however, that the only way to bypass the Constitution's safeguards was "a temporary combination between the legislature and the executive" and "a continued conspiracy for a series of time."  Many Republican and Democrat members of Congress unreservedly support President Obama's blatant misappropriation of the military in endless foreign interventionist schemes.  If not a conspiracy of cooperation, a conspiracy of commiseration exists, since members of Congress share the same interventionist ideology poisoning Obama doctrine.

I wrote an article featured several weeks ago condemning the use of the U.S. military to police the political organization of other states.  America no longer has the resources to sustain this type of commitment, and American intervention harms the nations it is intended to help.  That being said, the rationale for intervention is irrelevant if the action is not validated by Congress.  

As Abraham Lincoln would remark in a letter to law partner William Herndon:

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Lincoln viewed perpetual war as the "most oppressive of all kingly oppressions."  In the present state of affairs, we have given to the presidency the awesome power of fighting a protracted and ill-defined war by any means necessary.  Obama is now the equivalent of an elected king

Americans must reclaim the constitutional legacy of past generations, or freedom will become the decision of one man.  Do we really want President Obama deciding the fate of liberty?


iAppropriations or authorizations required for agencies in existence for more than one year, 31 U.S. Code, Sec. 1347.

ii John Hart Ely, "Clinton, Congress and War," NYT, 23 Oct. 1993, p. A21