Hi Ho, Hi Ho...We're off to Kosovo

By William Westmiller
web posted March 1999

American troops are on the way to Kosovo. So says the President, the Joint Chiefs and the United Nations. What about the American people? The sad prelude to our next foreign venture was the appearance of Pentagon strategists before the House Foreign Relations Committee. "Isn't there a Constitution," asked multiple legislators, "that requires a declaration of war before we initiate a military intervention?" The Pentagon representatives smiled. "We'll go," they implied, "and you'll pay the costs. So why bother with the hassle of getting advance permission from Congress?" Their posture was fully justified.

Ever since Vietnam, the imperial power of the Presidency to unilaterally commit American soldiers to foreign lands has been unchallenged. Only when the President deigns to invite Congressional approval is there any input from our representatives. President Bush invited and received approval for Desert Storm. It's probable that President Clinton would get approval for the Kosovo mission, but why bother? The Congress conceded all its Constitutional powers twenty- six years ago by adopting the War Powers Resolution. Sold as a restraint on future Vietnams, the resolution effectively amends the Constitution by granting the President full power over any military action, provided he consults with Congressional leaders within thirty days. The resolution didn't require approval, simply consultation with the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate. The cost such military adventures are either siphoned off other Pentagon budget items or added to emergency expenditures. They are always approved in full. A billion dollars for Desert Fox, a billion dollars for the Lewinsky bombings, a billion dollars for Bosnia, another billion for Korea. No wonder the Pentagon is smiling.

There may be some merit to granting the President limited discretion when there is a sudden threat of actual invasion across our borders. The President knows and the Pentagon knows that that possibility is so remote that a grant of such powers would be meaningless. There may even be merit in allowing the President to single-handedly defend our military commitments to NATO or conform with other military defense treaties approved by the Senate. Unless Belorussia has military designs on Poland, that's also a far- fetched prospect. No, what the President and the Pentagon want is a blank check to engage American troops anywhere in the world with only a cursory review after-the-fact. When the budget explosions arrive in Congress, the money is already gone. In most cases, the confrontation is over, a fait-accompli that can't be undone.

There are at least two reasons why the Congress declines to repeal the War Powers Resolution. Even decades after the Second World War, there remains a knee-jerk reaction to "support our troops" in any military action. How dare we send our young men and women into harm's way and not provide them complete and enthusiastic support? Of course, the argument misses the point. "We" didn't send them there, "we" simply washed our hands of the decision. "We" -- the people's representatives in Congress -- have a patriotic duty to defer to the great and exalted Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States. "United We Stand." In defense of liberty? In support of individual rights? Doesn't matter. We'll stand united for whatever.

The second reason why the War Powers Resolution is sacrosanct is that an idle military is weak and fruitless. Maintaining morale for the next sham war game or paintball skirmish is a difficult task. The nobility of the military occupation requires exercise of the military mind. Without a demonstration of skill and power in an environment with some life-threatening risks, the military mind rots from simple atrophy. Without a contest, the buff and ruthless soldier becomes a soft and sad tank potato. "Use it or lose it."

The cynics among us -- of which I'm one -- might also point out that military readiness is frequently a shallow excuse for pork barrel spending. What happens in Kosovo Sudan, or Afghanistan is only incidentally necessary to maintain the military-industrial complex that stimulates the fragile economy of a large number of Congressional districts. Does the military need another three hundred C-130 cargo planes? Doesn't matter. There's a military constituency in some congressional district that will elect a representative who brings the pork home. Do we need three military bases for every battalion? Doesn't matter. There are thousands of voters who might have to find a productive job if that local military base is closed. Effectiveness is irrelevant. Readiness is irrelevant. Big bucks from Big Brother is important.

There may be a noble and praiseworthy cause in Kosovo. Independence from a vicious communist dictator is a worthy objective for any people. A recitation of causes from our own Declaration of Independence provides ample grounds for a new Balkan nation. There may even be a case for committing our soldiers to the battle. But, that case has to be made. Under the War Powers Resolution, it will never be considered. It's far past time to repeal this autocratic piece of legislation. War powers should be exercised by the representatives of all the people, not by an executive military elite.

William Westmiller is the California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (CA24) Congress Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party. His previous columns are available on-line at http://www.westmiller.com/comment/.




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