Although today is Constitution Day, the Constitution has never been as ignored and violated as it is right now.
But because the Constitution (art. I, sec. 8) grants to Congress alone the power to “declare War,” to “raise and support Armies,” and to “provide and maintain a Navy,” even some “constitutional conservatives” have recently praised President Obama for not ordering a military strike against Syria without first consulting the Congress.
After facing opposition over his plan to launch yet another U.S. military intervention, Obama decided to seek the approval of Congress to strike against the Assad regime. Not the permission of Congress, as Jacob Hornberger recently pointed out, but the approval of Congress.
But rather than illuminating the beauty of how our constitutional system works, the Syrian situation instead reveals what a flawed document the Constitution is.
This is heresy to those conservatives who idolize the Constitution and claim to revere it, all the while giving nothing but lip service to it.
But suppose Congress did declare war on Syria and U.S. troops were right now pummeling the country with every weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Although such action would be constitutional, it would still be immoral, unnecessary, and unjust. Would a declaration of war against Iraq and Afghanistan have made those immoral, unnecessary, and unjust wars any more moral, necessary, and just?
And then to make things worse, suppose that Congress also instituted an additional heavy and burdensome tax to pay for the war. After all, the Constitution does say in article I, section 8, and in the 16th Amendment:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
This too would be constitutional.
Being a constitutionalist is not enough. The Founding Fathers talked wisely about neutrality, nonintervention, and the dangers of entangling alliances, but, unfortunately, none of this was enshrined in the Constitution. The U.S. military could invade every country on the planet and the American people could have 90 percent of their income taken to fund the invasions, but as long as Congress declared war it would all be constitutional. And then on top of that, the U.S. government—in accordance with the “takings” clause of the Constitution (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”)—can seize your property, pay you what it alone deems is “just,” bulldoze your house, construct a military base, and then tax you to pay you for your own house and to operate the base.
But even with the Constitution’s flaws, things would certainly be better if those who considered themselves to be constitutionalists actually followed the Constitution. Take the drug war, for example. The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to regulate or prohibit any drug for any reason. Yet, how many so-called constitutionalists support ending the drug war, at least on the federal level? How many “constitutional conservatives” in Congress would dare publicly say that there should be no federal laws regulating or prohibiting drugs like heroin? Only Ron Paul was bold enough to say such things when he was a member of Congress, but of course, he was a consistent constitutionalist and a libertarian.
Being a constitutionalist is not enough; being a libertarian is. A libertarian foreign policy of neutrality and nonintervention declares no immoral, unnecessary, and unjust wars. It requires no bloated military budgets. And it draws no red lines.