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Archive for the ‘Wartime Powers’ Category

Proliferation Press: New Republic Gives Notes on Being a Successful Opposition Party

Posted by K.E. White on June 20, 2007

President Bush’s approval ratings have hit the high twenties. Fortunately his Democratic opponents aren’t fairer any better. Are Senate leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi to blame?

While Bush is on the defensive after vetoing a bill allowing increased stem cell research, John B. Judis offers some thoughtful advice to Democratic leaders in Congress:

(full text can be accessed by registering free at the New Republic)

Congress’s approval rating is even lower than President Bush’s–it’s at 23 percent according to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. And, in another poll, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s favorability rating is down there with Scooter Libby–at 19 percent. Some Democrats blame their low standing with the public on the difficulties inherent in controlling Congress when the opposition party controls the White House. The fact is that the Democrats, with only a 50-49 majority, do not have enough votes to override White House vetoes or even to stop a Republican filibuster. But Democrats have been in this situation before, and, while they were unable to get their bills signed, they were able to place the onus of failure on the White House and on the Republicans.

If Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want guidance, they should look back at what the Democrats did during the presidential term of George H.W. Bush. The Democrats had a brilliant Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, and a competent House speaker, Tom Foley, who generally deferred to Mitchell. Mitchell and Foley forced Bush to veto popular bills that also enjoyed some Republican support in Congress. They showed up Bush as a heartless extremist and split his own party. And they handed Democrat Bill Clinton a platform on which to run in the fall of 1992.

Pelosi has fared somewhat better than Reid, but that is probably because she has managed so far to avoid the spotlight on Iraq and immigration. But neither Reid nor Pelosi have yet devised the kind of measures that Mitchell and Foley used in 1991 and 1992 to win public support for the Democrats and to split the Republicans. Most of what they have passed from their election agenda–including minimum wage and a watered-down lobbying-reform bill–will quietly be enacted into law. Except for a measure funding stem-cell research, they haven’t come up with anything comparable to Family and Medical Leave. If they want to put the Democrats in a good position to retain Congress and win the White House, they had better start thinking. And they had better avoid initiatives that divide their own party and unite the opposition.

But his advice highlights an acute Congressional deficit: action on foreign policy. While Judis’s advice may be right (Congress should never flirt with cutting war funding while troops are deployed), where does this leave America’s federal system of checks and balances?

Proliferation Press tackled Congress’s wartime roll in this earlier article.

The apparent conclusion from merging this article with Judis’s advice: Congressional influence is greatest before the deployment of troops.

Posted in Congress, Iraq, Pelosi, Reid, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Hamilton and Lee Back to the Rescue Again? UVa Launches the National War Powers Commission

Posted by K.E. White on March 1, 2007

I guess trying to save Iraq wasn’t enough for Hamilton and Lee. Now there trying to resuscitate our nation’s Constitution.

Say what?

Proliferation Press has chatted on the constitutional construction of our nation’s war powers, and today notes the University of Virginia has launched a commission to investigate that very question.

While it might seem academic, it’s exactly quite vital. Why did Congress not play a more forceful role in interrogating the Bush administration’s plans for war? Why does the Congress no longer “declare war” but merely “authorize” the President to exercise war powers.

In a Republic should not there be serious deliberations before war—with a state or non-state entity?

Warren Christopher and James Baker III are examining just that, or—as the Miller Center puts it—they hope to “examine how the Constitution allocates the powers of beginning, conducting, and ending war.”

And of course who’s coming along for the ride but Lee Hamilton.

More from the Miller Center:

When armed conflict is looming, debates about separation of powers and the uncertainty they often generate can impair relations among the branches of government, cast doubt on the legitimacy of government action, and prevent focused attention on policy. Armed conflicts with non-state actors and other non-traditional “wars,” as well as the courts’ involvement in war powers questions, make the Commission’s work relevant.

The Commission intends to produce a report making recommendations to assist Presidents, Congresses, Courts, and other policymakers in addressing war powers issues. When they are issued, the Commission’s recommendations will be entirely prospective in nature and not applicable to the present presidential Administration or present Congress.

But how significant is this fourteen member Commission?

The topic is not new: scholars have often tackled the subject of the growing dominance of the executive in matters of war. It seems three factors have led to this condition: 1) the expansion of America’s military since WWII and the greater burden placed on the executive to command it, 2) the lack of nation-state threats, but proliferation of non-state threats to American interests and 3) a media-sensitive Congress, unable to match the volume of the President’s bully pulpit.

But it is clear that there must be some re-thinking of the Constitutional responsibilities for war in this age of terrorism. It is imperative that Congress play an active and responsible role in determining America’s national security policy: lest the nation wishes to risk more strategic blunders.

Hopefully this Commission is provide the academic backdrop necessary for politicians and the public to demand a more deliberative process before our nation’s plunges into war.

Faith in our nation’s military operations cannot solely rest with faith in our President. The nation and, particularly, its political representatives have a responsibility to take responsibility for America’s military strategy.

This is a Commission to watch. While it will probably not rival the celebrity status of the Iraq Study Group, it may prove of far more consequence than its well-known counterpart.


This blog also appears on Campus Progress.

Posted in Congress, James Baker, Miller Center, University of Virginia, Warren Christopher, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Profound Failure: Congressional Inability to Debate the Iraq Escalation

Posted by K.E. White on February 6, 2007


U.S. Congress

Today a non-binding resolution critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq escalation died in the United States Senate.

Even the support of Sen. John Warner (R-VA) could not propel the bill to the needed sixty votes.

And, therefore, the opportunity for senators to pass symbolic judgment on President Bush’s Iraq policy has vanished.

Many anti-war voices may have used the immortal words of Peggy Lee to describe this weak, non-binding resolution, ‘Is that all there is?’

But they are wrong; and the American republic, based on co-equal branches of federal government, is today weaker.

Indeed, these voices are not without support. The resolution neither pulled the American plug out of Iraq, nor promised to rein in one of the most inept administrations witnessed in American history.

But any progressive that cheers or quick adjustments to this bill’s defeat should know this vote represents a profound political failure. Not only does it represent a still fledging and inept wartime Congress, one that will haunt Americans for years to come, we have anti-war Democrats to thank for this continuing crippling condition.

I’ll start with the latter half of this perhaps controversial claim.

While the media’s first read of this story highlights unified Republican opposition, the unraveling of support may have more to do with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Last Wednesday Sen. Feingold introduced his Iraq Deployment Act of 2007 that called for cutting Iraq funds within six months of its passage.

Feingold’s favored this approach since it 1) would end war quickly and 2) would exercise the constitutional war powers Congress explicitly holds—slamming the national purse shut.

But after decades of erosion to Congress’s wartime role, this approach was little more than anti-war posturing: Geared more for the 2008 primaries than the sentiment of today’s American public.

While some may agree with Feingold’s position, it 1) opened the door for Republican opposition around the banner of supporting troops already deployed and 2) did not represent a useful tool for Congress to reassert itself in wartime oversight.

Imagining how the American people will react to Congress failing to even hold a debate about the Iraq escalation.

Here’s my guess: ‘Is that all there is?’

And opponents of the administration will again be seen as members of a party without a plan.

The Bush administration could not have asked for a better rhetorical launching point for their failing plan.

But had the newly elected majority pulled off the sixty vote tally tonight for Sen. Warner’s compromise position, it would have represented a historic development in congressional-executive relation.

It would show, at a critical moment in American history, the Congress offering a strategic counter-weight to the President.

Could this momentum lead to the guarantee of active debate over half-baked national security strategies (read: the Iraq “debate” of 2003), regardless of a president’s momentarily popularity?

That is now a question relegated to history books.

But, for a few, concerns over who would be President in 2008 trumped both the matter at hand and the long-term health of our republic.

Am I holding one party to a higher standard than the other?


The nation has gone through too long a period in the wilderness, and hungers progress too much to have excuses wipe legislators’ hands clean.

That is unless, following the words of Miss Lee, we should tolerate a nation that sacrifices even more to the marvelously tragic spectacle that Iraq now represents:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus. The greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to a circus?’


This post also appears on Campus Progress.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Foreign Policy, Iraq, neoconservatism, Republican Party, Wartime Powers | 3 Comments »

America’s Responsibility? Egyptian Blogger Starts His Sedition Trial Today

Posted by K.E. White on January 19, 2007

Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, the first blogger charged for dissent in Egypt, started hisAbdelkareem Nabil Soliman trial today.

insulting the president” owing from his Egyptian blog, in which he was critical of Soliman is facing charges of “inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and government policies.

Look here for more information Soliman’s case, the Bush administration’s silence on the matter, a video describing his plight, and the efforts to free him.

The story, given the backdrop of a failed neo-conservative paradigm in Iraq, has opened questions about the usefulness of a “realist” approach in American diplomacy.

I. The Question that Plagues American Foreign Policy

Boiled down, the question comes to this:

Does American support for Egypt in this instance–a “stable” country with strong ties to America–show us violating fundamental American values in the name of stability.

Democracy Arsenal’s Shadi Hamid weighs in, opting to table the fundamental question for a (perhaps justified) jab at the Bush Administration and “realists” of any party:Shadi Hamid


As Zvika points out in his latest post, there’s been some renewed talk about (maybe) putting pressure on the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, such talk is not coming from the “end-tyranny-now” Bush administration, which continues to show that it isn’t – and never was – serious about democracy in the Middle East. For those such as Flynt Leverett, who think that “realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy,” this may be a welcome development. No more messianism, mission, and – for millions of Arabs – not so much to hope for.

I hope someone can tell me how “progressive” this video is. Be forewarned that this is a clip of Egyptian authorities sodomizing a man with some kind of rod. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in awhile. Democracy Arsenal readers will, of course, know that the US gives the Egyptian government upwards of $2 billion of aid each year. But will Democrats have anything to say about our “friends” in Egypt using our American dollars to sodomize political opponents? Don’t hold your breath. It would also be nice if one of the prospective Democratic nominees for 2008 calls out Bush/Condi on their hypocrisy.


II. Answering the Question–Clearing Up Our Terms

Here Hamid confuses the realist approach with a realist world view–by which I guess he means favoring short-term stability over fundamental human rights or liberal values.


Michael Lind—author or The American Way of Strategy – reminds us that realism is an approach, one that can be led in many directions. When Hamid assails “realists,” he assails though that use certain methods that allow Egypt the right to detain Soliman:

Michael Lind

Properly understood, realism consists merely of a set of methods [hegemony, concert of power, balance of power] used in power politics. The tools of realism can be used to promote a world based on freedom or one based on tyranny. Realism is like a knife, which can be used by a criminal to torture or kill or by a surgeon to save a life. Statesmen with radically different goals and visions of world order may be realists, in the sense that they follow the logic of realism for tactical or strategic reasons…

Properly defined, realism should not be confused with nineteenth-century German school of Machtpolitik (power politics), which held that an untrammeled state should maximize its power at all costs….American realism is a strategic doctrine that has as its purpose the preservation of the republican liberal way of life of the American people, not the maximization of the relative power of the United States. (37-38)

But this semantic reification doesn’t really answer the question at hand: does this news event show American foreign policy failing and being immoral?

Lind reminds us to add two dimensions when answering the question: time and resources.

Most would agree that America should push for a liberal democratic world, but timing can be everything.

Does allowing or feeding pro-democracy protests in Egypt help Egypt? I don’t know–but clearly, as is the case in Pakistan, the results could power to Islamic radicals or start a civil war.

III. Finding America’s Role in the World:

Should America’s limited resources be spent in this case?

Again I go to Lind for guidance:

Liberal internationalism can protect American’s republican way of life even if all sovereign states are not liberal states, much less liberal states that, like the United States, are also democratic republics. Americans have always believed that liberal states are superior in the abstract to illiberal states, and that among liberal states those with democratic republican constitutions are the best. But wise American statesmen have recognized that a liberal society requires the achievement of certain social conditions, and that the preconditions for a democratic republican liberal state are even more difficult to achieve. In the meantime time, the priority of the United States is the preservation of the post-imperial society of sovereign states, not crusades for liberalism or democracy. (253)

Of all the problems in the Middle East–the Iraq War, the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and Lebanon–would intervening in this case be a purely cosmetic move?


Big Picture, Please: Looking at one event cannot tell us whether American foreign policy is moral or immoral, let alone effective or ineffective.

Nuanced Strategy: Put liberalism–respect for individual rights within the state–before democracy–a form of government that may or may not be liberal.

And as to the Soliman dilemma: America should exert all reasonable pressure to alleviate the wrongs committed to this individual. But we must recognize that this evident is the result of many processes–not all of which America can be expected to control (Egypt’s domestic political situation, the threat of Islamic radicalism, and a over-stretched and largely undesired–by those in the region and now at home–American presence in the Middle East).

But should anyone who cares about this case learn more, urge Congressmen to act, let alone write the White House?


But let’s hope that these same people will also think about the complicated issues at hand, form their arguments soundly and rationally vote for our leaders in future elections.

Forging any foreign policy, let a lone a “progressive” one, is a tall order–requiring time, energy, and hard work on some of the world’s most troubling and thorny dilemmas.

Posted in Conservativism, Iran, Iraq, Republican Party, Soliman, Terrorism, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Blog-on-Blog: Response to the Reliant on Bush’s Troop “Surge”

Posted by K.E. White on January 13, 2007

The Reliant offers a good take on Bush’s plan to deploy more troops in Iraq.

Below are comments from K.E. White, who using the (unfair) advantage of endless comments to respond to the post. They also appear directly on the site.

“As Charles Krauthammer puts it…”

Charles Krauthammer? Okay, okay I might be a bit biased: but Krauthammer as a rational authority on this? He’s the extreme of the extreme, though he has been the most consistent (or irrational depending on your point of view) of the neo-cons.

This article of mine is a bit slanted
, but it does paint the problems of using this guy as a lone support.

“As for the increase in troops – the primary focus of Bush’s address – that recommendation may be a valuable one, but one can’t help but feel that the ideal moment for it has already passed. The increase, indeed, seems like a belated action…”

I completely agree, the “ideal moment” has passed. But I think its valuable to point out why: the American public has flipped flopped on its opinion of the war. Whereas earlier and throughout the 2004 election is supported remaining in Iraq and ignored troublesome signs there, it has now become extremely embittered: with 40% of voters strongly against the venture, an amount that upticks to 60-70% when relaxed to disagree.

“Thus far, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have supported the effort to keep force levels as low as possible in Iraq – which, thus far, has proved counterproductive in the bloody and complex milieu of Iraqi insurgency and counterinsurgency.”

When you evoke “policymakers on both sides” I become a bit suspicious. Weren’t these policy makers simply following the cue of President Bush? John McCain has consistently supported more troops, but was Congress really going to tell the President the proper level of troops, or pull for an increase? Doubtful: that is without the recent foreign policy maelstrom–increasing sectarian violence in Iraq brining about a highly critical Iraq Study Group Report and a sweeping ’06 election cycle.

When it came to troop levels it was Bush’s call: until the ’06 elections there was not the public pull for Congress to weigh in, as it now is (yes, albeit too late for rational policy making, a common weakness of Congressional warpowers).

But I would lay blame squarely on Bush, not “policymakers on both sides of the aisle.”

But if you are endorsing smarter and more active Congressional oversight (lacks for decades), we find ourselves in total agreement.

“If these additional troops are deployed – in the right places, for the right reasons, and with the right attention to reconciliation efforts within Iraq – there is reason to hope that they will prove a key part of securing democracy for the Iraqi people.”

Perhaps, perhaps not. General Petraeus (have you or could you do a bio on this guy?), from all reports, seems to be the right guy for the job. But does he have the proper tools? What I find interesting is that Bush did not take Frederick Kagan’s advice on troops numbers–same or virtually same brigade number, but far less troops.

Bush should have done this earlier: having lost public support, even if this policy is effective it will not survive any short term difficulties.

But on the main point, we both seem to share the same sentiment: solidifying the Iraqi government would be better than all-out civil war (or, depending on your point of view, terrorist feed sectarian violence) in Iraq.

I hope for success, but have little faith in the strategic judgement of this administration.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Diplomacy, Iran, Iraq, Iraq Study Group, John McCain, Reliant, Syria, Terrorism, Wartime Powers, WMD | 4 Comments »

Massive, Grassroots Action Against the Iraq Escalation?

Posted by K.E. White on January 11, 2007

Will we see a resurgence?Here’s an interesting post on Campus Progress showing the surprising “surge” of anti-war sentiment after President Bush’s announcement.

He’ll be going to the protest at LaFeyette, in Washington, D.C. reporting for He’ll send any extra information and photos our way.

How will the Democratic Congress respond? Will it be non-binding resolutions or more committee meetings?

Or will there be a more muscular response, such as cutting off funding?

And how does this growing dissent effect President Bush’s ability to handle America’s international affairs?

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Iraq, Iraq Protest, Security Studies, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

What Is Congress’s Wartime Role? Viewing 2002 Iraq Resolution

Posted by K.E. White on January 6, 2007

Did the United States Congress, in authorizing President George W. Bush to decide when to use force in Iraq, forfeit its wartime constitutional responsibity?
Who wins in war?

Many in today’s anti-war movement would heartily agree: bemoaning the complete lack of oversight by Congressional Democrats in the run-up to the Iraq War. If Congress is a co-equal branch, where was their voice?

But isn’t the President the “decider” in matters of war as our nation’s commander-in-chief?

Proliferation Press offers this report that explores wartime separation of powers looking to the works of three scholars–finding both sides in need of tweaking.

Congress’s pathetic role in checking a rushed war backed by a popular President was foreordained, White argues. While holding out hope for a future reversal, 2002 was not it and it seems 2007 won’t be either.

Read the full article

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Constitutional History, Homeland Security, Iraq, Julian Zeilzer, Keith Whittington, Louis Fisher, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »