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Questioning Presidential War Powers
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Walter Pincus of the Washington Post is the paper’s most consistently readable columnist addressing foreign policy and national security issues. Which is no doubt why he seldom appears on the editorial/op-ed pages and is instead consigned to a corner plot on something called the “Fed Page,” which follows business news.

In today’s paper Pincus suggests that Bob Schieffer, moderator of the upcoming Monday presidential debate on foreign policy, ask the two candidates about war powers. The war powers issue is fundamental to the current U.S. malaise as the de facto acceptance of presidential prerogative to go to war has created what is essentially a permanent state of small-scale wars and so-called humanitarian interventions. The Constitution is clear that only Congress has the authority to declare war, but it is also true that the United States is obliged to comply with treaties that it has entered into. U.S. membership in the UN is based on a treaty ratified by the Senate which enables Washington to participate in military operations authorized by the Security Council, though it does not require American involvement. This is why both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have sought UN approval for actions taken against Iraq, Libya, and now Syria.

Pincus notes that Mitt Romney has stated that he believes that the president currently has full authority to use military force against nations like Iran. As Obama has engaged in military action in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Uganda without any sanction from the United Nations, he apparently shares that belief. Pincus describes how Obama ordered military operations against Libya with a two-page letter to Congress claiming that as “commander in chief he had constitutional authority to authorize the military operations to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”

As presidential prerogative would appear to be an essentially unconstitutional and possibly illegal mechanism for starting a war of aggression against Iran, Pincus goes on to ask, “Does Obama or Romney believe that any military action against Iran would be as limited as the one in Libya?…What solution is required by each candidate for this situation [Iranian enrichment of uranium]? Do they believe that any deal with Iran requires Israeli approval?”

Apropos of cutting a deal with Iran, at a conference yesterday in Washington former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar noted that an agreement with Tehran over its nuclear program is within reach. It requires negotiation to have Iran back off from its enrichment program in stages while sanctions against it are also removed in a commensurate fashion, the stick and carrot approach. Obviously any rapprochement with Iran would face strong opposition from various domestic constituencies as well as from the Israeli government, but the only alternative is to maintain a constant state of no-war no-peace with red lines that are very much subject to interpretation. Or to go to war. Neither Romney nor Obama seems prepared to do what is necessary to change direction and peacefully resolve a long simmering rivalry and both are instead inclined to cite prerogative to start an armed conflict that could easily have catastrophic consequences. They should certainly be challenged on these views and what the possible consequences might be, though it is doubtful whether either will respond to such serious questions with candor.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: 2012 Election 
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  1. Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad and former Israeli Security Advisor just spoke on CSPAN. His reasoned and professional approach to the whole Iranian affair should be studied by all who want a decent outcome. He is an Israeli patriot who believes that the end of the day, Iran must accept that it will not become a nuclear power just as it must come to accept the existence of Israel. But he actually welcomes practical diplomacy over blind bellicosity. He is a refreshing realist regarding the nature of the middle east and his views are instructive on a range of issues.

    His remarks can be seen on CSPAN on line.

  2. cka2nd says:

    Martians will invade the Earth before Bob Schieffer – a superb news reader, mediocre journalist and utterly loyal lapdog of the establishment – asks such a substantive and potentially discomfiting question of Obama and Romney.

    Ron Paul or Ralph Nader, Schieffer would poke and pick at in an instant (Paul may still be pulling the thorns from his hide from the interrogation I saw Shieffer put him through on Face the Nation), but the “Of-Fi-Cial” nominees of the twin parties of the establishment? Hah!!

  3. TomB says:

    @ Tom Meehan:

    I too like Halevy, but you still have to admit, after thinking about it, that where his reasonableness is shows how cockeyed the Israeli and even American debate is.

    E.g., “Iran must accept that it will not become a nuclear power.”

    Well well well, this tiny little slice of a country of a few million, planted in the midst of billions, gets to tell those billions what level of industrial, scientific, military and other development they can have? Which, needless to say, is always going to be way less advanced than the little slice has?

    With that little slice having stolen its way toward nukes in the first place? And indeed “illegitimately” having them at least so long as it accepts U.S. aid due to U.S. banning such aid to countries that aren’t signatories to the NPT and who have nukes?

    And, presumably, Israel (or even America) is going to have this power over those billions for eternity?

    Yeah, right. Sounds like a reasonable scheme the entire ME is gonna accept in perpetuity. Sort of like accepting being perpetual second-class world citizens.

  4. Tom B, I think Halevy is expressing the Israeli position. He did not elaborate why Iran needs to give up on nukes. He also went on to say Iran did not pose an existential threat to Israel and that Israel could go on trucking if the Iranians did in fact get some nukes. Play the C-SPAN recording of the event. Compare it with the amoral war promotion we have come to expect from both American and Israeli sources.

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