War Is Holy – This I Know

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“I take President Obama’s word for it that troops will not be engaged on the ground,” eructated MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, rebuking investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill for fomenting doubts about the wisdom of the Dear Leader’s war in Libya. When Scahill made a passing reference to “your President Obama,” Schultz morphed into a portlier, more articulate version of Sean Hannity: “`My’ President Obama? Is he your president, too? Jeremy, is he your president, too?”

A suitable response to hectoring of this kind from a certified cultist would be the following:

“I am not a member of the U.S. military, which means that I do not have a commander-in-chief. I am not an employee of the executive branch of the federal government, which means that the occupant of the White House is not my supervisor. Mr. Obama does not preside over me in any sense that I recognize. To the extent we have any relationship at all, Mr. Obama should be considered my subordinate, one of the hired help. He certainly doesn’t have any moral or legal standing to pretend that he can order me to do anything, and if I had the opportunity I would place him under citizen’s arrest for his crimes against the Constitution, individual liberty, and the peace of nations – of which his criminal assault on Libya is the most recent but hardly the only example.”

There was a time, perhaps five of six years ago, when Ed Schultz was a genuinely independent radio commentator of a left-leaning populist bent. I doubt that the Ed Schultz of 2005 would recognize the sycophantic invertebrate who began the segment with Scahill by uttering the following homily on the theme of the Leader Principle: “This isn’t Bush-talk; this is totally different from Iraq…. The president has gone on record saying that Libyan agents have killed Americans – that’s all as an American I need to hear; let’s get it done.”

The doctrine of citizenship-as-submission to the Dear Leader’s divine will is indeed “Bush talk” of the most obnoxious variety. It was preached with remarkable clarity during a July 11, 2006 exchange between Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Steven Bradbury, at the time head of the Office of Legal Counsel for the “Justice” Department.

At issue was the Wee Emperor’s deliberate misrepresentation of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which did impose some trivial (and largely ignored) restrictions on the treatment of the detainees who are held illegally at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Bradbury insisted that because the Hamdan ruling “does implicitly recognize we’re in a war,” it effectively authorizes the president to do anything he wants to anyone of his choosing, since such decisions are supposedly permissible “under the law of war.”

Leahy pointed out that the Hamdan decision – whatever its faults – explicitly rejected the Bush administration’s claim of illimitable war powers, and upbraided the OLC for giving Bush the “cockamamie idea” that such a claim had been validated in that ruling.

“Was the president right or was he wrong?” Leahy demanded of Bradbury.

“The president is always right,” oozed Bradbury in reply.

The instrument has yet to be invented that can identify a substantive difference between Bradbury’s statement and Ed Schultz’s insistence that an unsupported presidential assertion is sufficient authority to justify an aggressive war.

A slightly less acute version of the same leader-cult mentality was exhibited by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine. Drum’s endorsement of Obama’s illegal war in Libya rests heavily on what I’ve come to call the Gnostic Fallacy – namely, that the president is invested with prophetic powers giving him wisdom and insight mere mortals don’t possess:

“If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he’s smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust his judgment, and I still do.”

In matters of power, Thomas Jefferson advised, “let us hear no more of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Modern collectivists, of both the Red State Fascist and Blue State Bombardier varieties, insist that the president himself is the Living Constitution, and that our duty is to make his will our law – as long as their respective faction controls the White House, of course.

Bradbury, Schultz, and Drum reiterated a doctrine of executive authority under which the Leader “shapes the collective will of the people within himself,” and his subjects are “bound to [him] in loyalty and obedience. The authority of the [Leader] is not limited by checks and controls … but it is free and independent, all-inclusive and unlimited.”

This, of course, was the official definition of Fuhrerprinzip – the “Leader Principle,” as found in The Organization Book of the National Socialist Workers Party. It is also a bedrock organizing principle of the National (or, since 2002, the Homeland) Security State.

John Yoo, the unindicted war criminal who composed most of the key memoranda outlining the Bush administration’s doctrine of unlimited presidential war powers, has conferred his blessing on Obama’s war in Libya. It is Yoo’s position is that while it is wise for a president to seek political support from Congress, he doesn’t need that body’s “constitutional permission” to commit the U.S. government to war.

A few days after Yoo endorsed Obama’s war, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested that Congress should consider a resolution “authorizing” the war. Unless Levin has access to Doc Brown’s flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean, what he is proposing is a purely Orwellian exercise in “rectifying” the record to conform to Dear Leader’s will.

"I'm interested in a vote authorizing military action," Levin said on March 29 u2014 a week and a half after the missiles had started to fly, and most likely months after CIA and Special Forces operators had been insinuated into Libya, Ed Schultz’s ingenuous faith in Obama’s assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. "The president said he'd welcome it and I think it would be helpful,” Levin continued. “It'd show public support for the effort. And that's always useful.”

The Constitution doesn't describe a congressional declaration of war as a "useful" gesture to ratify an ongoing military campaign; it dictates that such a declaration is mandatory before the government of the United States commits itself to military action against another country.

Were this an actual constitutional republic, public support for a formally declared war, expressed through an appropriate vote by elected representatives before the war began, would be mandatory. This is something both Obama and Biden acknowledged as Senators; in fact, Biden went so far as to describe presidential usurpation of congressional war powers as an impeachable offense. Now we're told that a useless resolution issued well after the fact would be taken as a binding statement of "public support," which is "useful" but materially irrelevant to the actions of our rulers.

The only material check on presidential war-making ability, according to John Yoo and people of his repulsive ilk, is the power of the purse: Congress has the ability to de-fund military operations once they have begun.

Of course, this creates a perverse incentive for presidents to use military personnel as hostages – deploying them in a war zone and then indignantly accusing Congress of betraying “our gallant and intrepid heroes on the front lines, oh may they be blessed forever” if the body moves to de-fund the war.

As if in anticipation of such action by Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who seems to be channeling Dick Cheney – told Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) during a classified briefing that the administration would ignore any congressional effort intended to end, restrain, or limit the war in Libya. Some of the administration’s critics have described this as a threat to violate the War Powers Act of 1973, a peculiar little enactment intended to “restrain” the power of the president to do something he isn’t authorized to do at all in the first place – namely, to wage undeclared wars abroad.

Clinton displayed a certain forthright arrogance in telling congressmen that they wouldn’t be permitted to end Mr. Obama’s war. However, her statement is firmly rooted in a bipartisan doctrine of totalitarian presidential war powers – one that would likely withstand a Supreme Court challenge, given that the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, has explicitly endorsed it.

On February 19, 1984, Roberts – at the time a special assistant to White House Counsel Fred Fielding – wrote a memo entitled “War Powers Problem” that examined a bill conferring benefits on veterans of the Reagan administration’s disastrous military venture in Lebanon. The time of service covered by that bill would run from August 20, 1982, until “the date the operation ends” – with the latter date to be determined either by presidential proclamation or by a concurrent resolution in Congress.

For Roberts, the idea of Congress acting to end a military conflict would be an impermissible encroachment on what he considered to be the plenary war powers of the president. “I do not think we would want to concede any definite role for Congress in termination [of] the Lebanon operation, even by joint resolution presented to the president,” he wrote.

“Your memo suggests that Congress is powerless to stop a president who is going to conduct an unauthorized war,” observed Senator Leahy during Roberts’s September 2005 confirmation hearings. “You’re saying you don’t want to concede any ability to let Congress stop a war.”

“Do we have the power to terminate a war?” persisted Leahy (whose zeal to restrain the imperial presidency dimmed perceptibly after January 20, 2009). “We have the power to declare war. Do we have the power to terminate war?”

Roberts took refuge in dissimulation:

“Senator, that’s a question that I don’t think can be answered in the abstract. You need to know the particular circumstances and exactly what the facts are and what the legislation would be like…. The argument on the executive side will rely on authority as commander in chief and whatever authorities derive from that.”

Of course, under the Constitution – which, admittedly, has no tangible relationship to the exercise of governmental power in our current system – all of the president’s war powers are derivative. This includes his temporary role as commander-in-chief of the U.S. government’s military forces when called into service by Congress, which has the sole and exclusive power to declare war and to issue regulations governing the military.

That’s what the Constitution says on the matter. However, Roberts – like all other proponents of Fuhrerprinzip – insists that the president’s war powers are “not limited by checks and controls,” as the definitive expression of that doctrine put it (albeit in the original German). In fact, the Bush administration – building on a string of precedents going back to the Vietnam War – actually held that the president has the authority to spend un-allocated funds to continue military operations even after Congress refuses to continue appropriating money for a war.

In 2007, Congress and the White House were at loggerheads over a “supplemental” spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Insisting that “We expect there to be no strings on our commanders,” Bush threatened to veto a spending measure that called for an end to the Iraq war by no later than September 2008.

As the impasse deepened, a fascinating proposal was offered by economics pundit Stan Collender, an executive vice president for the PR firm Burson-Marsteller – which received some very lucrative Iraq War agitprop contracts (and, appropriately, has made a fortune sanitizing some of the world’s most hideous dictatorships). Writing in the National Journal, Collender suggested that the administration could invoke the “Feed and Forage Act of 1861” in order to permit the Pentagon to continue procuring war materiel in the absence of an actual congressional appropriation.

The Lincoln-era Feed and Forage Act, Collender insisted, “turns the federal budget world on its head. The standard procurement process is for obligations to be incurred by a federal department or agency only after an appropriation is enacted. Food [sic] and Forage allows funds to be obligated before the appropriation is in place. In other words, the deadlines the White House keeps using for the Iraq war supplemental are irrelevant. Indeed, the Pentagon may have already begun to obligate funds for this purpose while the debate on the supplemental is continuing.”

An analysis of the issue published by OMB Watch pointed out that on at least a half-dozen occasions since 1968, the Feed and Forage Act was used to fund ongoing military operations. “The act gives the military, at its own discretion and in the absence of appropriations, some power to obligate the federal government to purchase goods and services during emergencies for use through the end of the fiscal year,” explained the analysis.

None of the “emergencies” described in the report involved an actual threat to the United States – but this is entirely proper, since the text of the measure “does not expand upon conditions or circumstances that would constitute an `emergency,’ relying instead on case-by-case determinations.” A 1994 GAO Report entitled “Analysis of Options for Funding Contingency Operations” concluded that the Feed and Forage Act endows the Pentagon with “virtually unlimited contract authority” to purchase whatever it deems necessary to continue a war.

“With this understanding, it seems more than plausible that President Bush could use the powers in the Feed and Forage Act to sustain U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan once other sources of funding have run out,” concludes the report. This is to say that thanks to this measure – a legacy of Abraham Lincoln’s war to conquer the independent South – the president and the Pentagon can continue to spend money in defiance of a congressional decision to de-fund a military operation.

What this means is that under present arrangements, Congress is not only denied a role in declaring war, it has no effective means of ending an undeclared war. But this is troubling only to those heresy-riddled souls who refuse to submit to the infallible judgment of our Blessed Leader.