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Power to Declare War & the Need to Declare War

Below is an interesting article on the power to declare war. It is found on the House.gov web site which is the official web site of the US House of Representatives. I found this paragraph interesting in tone:

While a close reading of the Convention debates suggests that the framers intended to limit Presidents to defensive actions, a number of administrations, especially after World War II, have broadly interpreted the notion of a defensive war and have committed U.S. armed forces without congressional authority only to ask for it later, if they ask for it at all.

It’s as if whomever wrote it actually understands that something is off about our president just bombing other countries. When I say “our president” I don’t just mean our current one, but the last several as well and any future president who follows the same path.

America the Beautiful

They all agree that if someone attacks the United States the president can respond without Congress giving permission. That makes sense in that we must immediately act and cannot wait for debate and a vote while we fend off an enemy.

We’ve been attacking someone my entire life. You would have to be pretty old for that not to be true for most of you. If we reflect on those wars we are hard pressed to find one in recent memory that evolved from an actual attack on the US or a direct attack on her interests abroad. Most recently we find ourselves attacking Syria. I am left to contemplate the very serious questions that attend such an action. Are we justified in our attack? In terms of the ideas of our Founders I would say no. However, America is now something I doubt they ever could have foreseen – a Super Power. America is now the greatest military force the world has ever known. I do not think they would have guessed that happening. As such we have taken on the role of protector for many other nations.

Geopolitics is incredibly complex. Or is it?

Rand Paul recently said that when we bomb or missile another country without going through Congress we skip over what is the most important question of them all, “should we go to war?”

That’s a really great question to ask. Why does the US do this? To protect our interests abroad. What are those “own interests”? Especially in Syria. What are the consequences of doing this? What are the consequences of not doing this? And the correct answer to the latter isn’t as simple as “well, people won’t die”. Clearly geopolitics is more complex than that.

Syria has been fighting a civil war for seven years. A war I’m not so sure we didn’t start by the way. Now, “The United States, Britain and France launched punitive military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime in response to its latest alleged chemical weapons atrocity, President Donald Trump announced Friday.”

See how complicated that makes things?

First off it seems simple: it is their civil war so we have nothing to do with it. In some other country it might be more complicated because of entanglements with allies, foes, or resources. Syria is of dubious importance to the United States. Then we hear of atrocities such as the most recent use of poison gas. That changes it from politics to ethics and morality. Do we have a moral duty to help? I think we do. But that isn’t so easy either. If we have a moral duty to help in Syria don’t we have one to help elsewhere? When compared to the United States of America the majority of people in the world live under oppression and cruelty. In South Africa right now the government has voted to take land away from farmers simply because the color of those farmers’ skin. Those same farmers have been attacked and murdered in including women and children who have been raped and tortured. Country after country. England violates the rights of its citizens to privacy, arms and speech. Is it that those rights are only granted to them by their government or are they unalienable? If the latter do we have an obligation to attack London to save them from this oppression and literal human rights violation?

I’m actually not being sarcastic here though I know the tone makes it sound as if I am. I really do wonder where that line is, if it exists at all. On an individual level if you were in the mall and you saw a mother beating her child to death would you stop her? Even if it would put you in harms way I am betting the answer is “yes”. Why does this morality change when we talk about nations? Set aside for a moment if the gas attack in Syria was real or not, and if real if it was a false flag meant to prolong the war. Set that aside and let us assume for the sake of discussion that it was real. If we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was real. Would that mean bombing Syria is justified?

The Founding Fathers were against foreign wars.

America was meant to stay out of things in the world and to be rather isolationist. That is one reason the power to make war was invested in the Congress and the power to direct war in the civilian president. Being an independent nation meant just that, being independent from other nations. All foreign policy was to have this as the foundation and was to be done in prudence.

Many argue we live in a global society now and the days of isolation are over. In fact they have come to see this way of thinking as so bad and backward that it has become an “ism” – isolationism. This is made even more terrible when coupled with the dastardly “nationalism”. The Founding Fathers though had another “ism” in mind – idealism. That is to say that our intervention and affairs abroad should be driven by an ideal rather than practicality. So is the morality of the moment that ideal or is the isolationism that ideal?

“We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations as with individuals our interests soundly calculated will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties, and history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is trusted on its word when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.” – Thomas Jefferson

I am left with part of me thinking we need to save lives and end war and the other part of me saying we need to only spend American lives and American treasure on American interests. It reminds me of the a line from the movie Metropolis where Maria says, “HEAD and HANDS need a mediator. THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!” which leaves me to think, who is the mediator between heart and head?


“The Congress shall have Power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”—U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 1“The Congress shall have Power . . . To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules conquering Captures on Land and Water;“To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;“To provide and maintain a Navy;“To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”—U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clauses 11–16

Source: Power to Declare War | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

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