The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

McCarthy On The War Powers Act

Posted on | June 9, 2011 | 8 Comments

by Smitty

Read this NRO post by Andrew McCarthy on the War Powers Act. Truly interesting Constitutional thinking.

What makes the WPA constitutionally problematic, though, is mostly its legislative veto provision, which purports to enable Congress to direct the president to withdraw forces by a joint resolution. (See this 2004 CRS analysis, here.) Joint resolutions are not binding law because, under the Constitution, law can only be enacted if the president signs a bill passed by both houses of Congress, or if Congress overrides a presidential veto of that bill by the required super-majority. (As Rich points out, the veto-override is how the WPA was enacted in the first place.) Putting aside the knottier question whether Congress has the authority to order a president to withdraw forces (i.e., could Congress constitutionally direct a president to withdraw forces by overriding the presidential veto of a bill directing him to do so?), Congress certainly cannot direct a president to do anything by a mere resolution.

Where I would like to see the conversation go is historical. If the decisions stretching from the Constitution to today are taken one at a time, you find yourself giving the people in power the benefit of the doubt; it is at least possible that you’d have done the same in their shoes.
Step back, though, and consider the thrust of American history since the National Security Act of 1947. Do we seem increasingly embroiled in war because human nature has become more warlike, or is it just because we have a hegemonic arsenal laying around?
This is an increasingly crucial set of paradoxes in the American psyche, at least for me:

  • Prior to 1947, we were never hegemonic; that is a facet of Holy Progress.
  • Hegemonic power is at odds with separation of powers in the Constitution.
  • Hegemonic power may be economically unsustainable alongside the social welfare state, which we are addressing with equal sobriety.
  • Having assumed hegemonic power, the desirability and possibility of cleanly divesting ourselves of it is not clear.

On a personal level, coming clean about a screw-up is typically the least-worst approach. This does not mean that getting better is painless, just that honesty minimizes the pain.
Yet ours is a political system that does not reward honesty.
So the question moves to whether we find another sweet liar to move these problems down the road, or whether the economic reckoning flattens us, obviating the question.
I love my country, but, based on the historical evidence, I do not think it can produce leadership clever enough to do anything more than mark time until some economic reckoning forces the question. We’ll have less control, when ‘it’ happens. But our capacity for analysis only kick in retrospectively.  And then, like some Tommy Boy, we’ll have a montage, and recover. It’s who we are; it’s what we do.


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