Home National Politics Why is there no anti-war movement?

Why is there no anti-war movement?



One thing I strive for in my politics is consistency and principle. Unlike much of official Washington, I don’t judge the rightness of a policy by who is in office. I didn’t oppose Afghanistan and Iraq because I was anti-Bush. I opposed them because I was anti- military intervention, especially unilateral, extra-constitutional intervention without sufficient thought to how these conflicts would end. Same now.

I don’t know about you, but bombing Libya (the fourth Arab nation in which we are currently engaged in military operations) without congressional authorization is not what I expect from Obama. Escalating the war in Afghanistan is not what I expect from Obama. Maintaining 50,000 troops in Iraq is not what I expect from Obama. The inhumane treatment of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Bradley Manning (regardless of their guilt) is not what I expect from Obama.

If we don’t say so now, if we are not as vocal in our principles when a Democrat is in office, can we rightly criticize the next George W. Bush?

These principles are important. They were among the principles we endorsed in 2008.  In 2007 Barack Obama told Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Candidate Hillary Clinton spoke similarly:

If the country is under truly imminent threat of attack, of course the President must take appropriate action to defend us. At the same time, the Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the President can take military action – including any kind of strategic bombing – against Iran without congressional authorization.

And candidate Joe Biden:

The Constitution is clear: except in response to an attack or the imminent threat of attack, only Congress may authorize war and the use of force.

That’s what they said then. That’s what we argued then, when George W. Bush was President. By our silence now we become hypocrites.  Worse, we degrade these principles and consign the right and just goal of peaceful engagement in the world to irrelevance.

I openly wept on election night when it was clear Obama would win the presidency. I’d never been prouder to be an American. Perhaps because of the depth of my feeling, my hope, if you will, that we would chart a new and better course, I cannot now be silent. I voted for change, not the next chapter of the imperial presidency.

I have to say it: I’ve never been more disappointed in my president.

How about you? If you spoke out then, will you speak out now?


Some additional food for thought below:


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  • clearly has authority, under the War Powers Resolution, to order military actions like this one. See here for more on that subject. As for Congressional “authorization,” there have been very few post-WWII military actions undertaken by the US that have been “authorized” by Congress. In this case, however, many in Congress were pressing the Obama Administration to do something to stop a total bloodbath in Libya. John McCain’s criticism is actually that Obama didn’t act soon or aggressively enough.

    Now, as for the merits of participating in a UN Security Council/NATO “no-fly zone” operation in Libya vs. allowing Qaddafi to reconquer eastern Libya and kill thousands of people, I vote for Option A.  What other good or even half-decent options were there, exactly?  Also, I’ve gotta say, given the blood of hundreds of Americans Qaddafi has on his hands, I will celebrate when he’s gone and rotting in hell. But that’s just me, I’m kinda like that with people who blow up airplanes with hundreds of innocent passengers on board.

  • Jason

    Not one of your posts addresses a single issue that I have raised.  Nothing Marshall said is inconsistent with my post.  I quoted the statute itself, you are quoting non-legal bloggers for your information.  As an attorney who has studied the War Powers Act, I am well aware of what it does and what its limitations are.  

    The “meat” of the War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war.  But the Act is also VERY clear that Presidents are only to initiate force pursuant to advance authorization or “(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”  The 48 hour notice provision is intended to apply to that THIRD situation only.  It would be superfluous if authorization were provided in advance.

    As a matter of fact, I consider every single military intervention since and including the Korean War to have been illegitimate.  Routine and deliberate ignorance of constitutional law does not change the constitution.  To the extent it has established a new norm, I frankly reject it as I did in every war of which I have been cognizant, starting with Grenada, Panama, Libya, Somalia, Serbia, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan, and now this.  

    I have a fundamentally different policy view about what is the proper role of the U.S. military in foreign affairs.  You do not even begin to engage me on that point.

    If you consider these to be adequate precedents, please explain to me why Obama, Clinton, and Biden did not during the campaign?

    Kucinich raising the specter of impeachment is frankly beside the point.  What are those of us who oppose yet another “splendid little war” to do when we see president after president acting imperially?  What are we to do when we worked so damn hard to elect a president who specifically promised to be different and has now gone back on his word.  A constitutional law professor no less, who knows damn well what the historical basis and precedent for presidential authority is.  Was he lying during the campaign or has he simply changed his mind?

    Congress, if it had a pair, would cut off funds for these excursions and decline to authorize the use of force in situations like this.  But as we well know, Congress, regardless whether we have a Democratic or Republican president, lacks all will to assert its prerogative in foreign affairs.

    That is to our lasting shame and discredit.


  • here:

    The Constitution’s division of powers leaves the President with some exclusive powers as Commander-in-Chief (such as decisions on the field of battle), Congress with certain other exclusive powers (such as the ability to declare war and appropriate dollars to support the war effort), and a sort of “twilight zone” of concurrent powers.  In the zone of concurrent powers, the Congress might effectively limit presidential power, but in the absence of express congressional limitations the President is free to act.  Although on paper it might appear that the powers of Congress with respect to war are more dominant, the reality is that Presidential power has been more important–in part due to the modern need for quick responses to foreign threats and in part due to the many-headed nature of Congress.

    The Supreme Court has had relatively little to say about the Constitution’s war powers.  Many interesting legal questions–such as the constitutionality of the “police action” in Korea or the “undeclared war” in Viet Nam–were never decided by the Court.  (Although the Supreme Court had three opportunities to decide the constitutionality of the war in Viet Nam, it passed on each one.)

  • This is interesting:

    A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by 26 members of Congress who contended that President Clinton has had no legal authority to continue U.S. participation in the airstrikes against Yugoslavia.

    The bipartisan lawsuit sought to enforce timetables in the largely ignored Vietnam-era War Powers Act, which would have required Clinton to obtain congressional approval or terminate U.S. involvement in Kosovo by May 25, two months after the start of the action.

    Although the airstrikes could end soon as a result of a Kosovo peace agreement, the House members wanted the judge to hear the case in hopes of receiving a ruling that would govern future use of military force.

    In throwing out the case, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman noted that the courts traditionally have been reluctant to intervene in political disputes concerning matters of war. Friedman said he saw no evidence of a constitutional impasse between the Clinton administration and Congress that would warrant the court’s action.

    The House members, led by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.), wanted the judge to demand that Clinton immediately seek congressional approval to continue U.S. involvement in the war. Their lawsuit, filed April 30, contended the war is illegal because Clinton never obtained a declaration of war or other authority from Congress

    Sound familiar?  

  • here:

    In effort to check the increasingly omnipotent powers exercised by the commander in chief, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution (WPR) in 1973. The WPR called for the president to consult with Congress “in every possible instance,” prior to and during the use of force. The president was also required to notify Congress in writing within 48 hours of any military action where American troops were engaged. If the president did not gain Congress’s explicit support of the military action after 60 days, the president was required to bring the troops home. Moreover, if any troops were engaged in “hostilities,” the WPR could be invoked.

    For a number of reasons, including the poorly defined “consult” clause as well as the ambiguous “hostilities” requirements, the WPR is viewed as a near complete failure by most analysts.

    Moreover, all presidents since its passage have viewed it as an unconstitutional attempt to limit their perceived authority as commander in chief.

    Although Congress has arguably placed some restraints on presidential military ambitions, and perhaps also exercises a tacit checking power by sending political signals to the president regarding use of force options, it seems clear that the WPR itself has proved to have a limited checking influence on the president

  • Congressional Research Service report from March 2004.

    The record of the War Powers Resolution since its enactment has been mixed, and after 30 years it remains controversial. Some Members of Congress believe the Resolution has on some occasions served as a restraint on the use of armed forces by Presidents, provided a mode of communication, and given Congress a vehicle for asserting its war powers. Others have sought to amend the Resolution because they believe it has failed to assure a congressional voice in committing U.S. troops to potential conflicts abroad. Others in Congress, along with executive branch officials, contend that the President needs more flexibility in the conduct of foreign policy and that the time limitation in the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional and impractical. Some have argued for its repeal.

    This report examines the provisions of the War Powers Resolution, actual experience in its use from its enactment in 1973 through October 2001, and proposed amendments to it. Appendix 1 lists instances which Presidents have reported to Congress under the War Powers Resolution, and Appendix 2 lists representative instances of the use of U.S. armed forces that were not reported.

  • Council on Foreign Relations:

    What impact has the War Powers Resolution had on waging wars?

    Experts say it has had mixed results. Alton Frye, a CFR presidential senior fellow at the time, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002 that the response to the act was disappointing. “The resistance of every president to the law,” he said, “beginning with President Nixon’s unsuccessful veto, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to provide a definitive ruling on the law’s constitutionality have left a worrisome cloud over legislative-executive relations in this crucial field.” The Congressional Research Service says that from 1975 through 2003, presidents submitted 111 reports as the result of the resolution, but only one-the 1975 Mayaguez incident-cited action triggering the time limit. It said the reports from presidents, which usually said their actions were “consistent with the War Powers resolution,” ranged from military operations like embassy operations to full combat like the 2003 war with Iraq, which Congress authorized. Fisher of the Library of Congress says there has been some acknowledgment from presidents of the law’s power. “I think in a lot of actions-in Granada [in 1983], in Panama in 1989-there seemed to be efforts to get things wrapped up by the sixty-day limit,” he says.

  • weigh in:

    The next time the president goes to war, Congress should be consulted and vote on whether it agrees, according to a bipartisan study group chaired by former secretaries of state James Baker III and Warren Christopher.

    In a report released Tuesday, the panel says the current law governing the nation’s war powers has failed to promote cooperation between the executive and legislative branches. It says the 1973 resolution should be repealed and replaced with new legislation that would require the president to inform Congress of any plans to engage in “significant armed conflict,” or non-covert operations lasting longer than a week.

    In turn, Congress would act within 30 days, either approving or disapproving the action.

  • Jason

    None of what you are posting, Lowell, matters. I don’t disagree with anything that has been said about the War Powers Act.  To whit, it has failed to serve as a serious check on presidential imperialism.  Most presidents have complied with its notice provisions (while ignoring its substantive limitations).  There is ample precedent since the Korean conflict for this kind of intervention. War powers is a constitutional no-mans land, in which the courts will not intervene.  I concede all these points.  I concede that Congress usually ratifies the use of force after the fact through a resolution or through inaction, which may have the actual or practical effect of legitimizing (constitutionally) the action.  

    I do not concede that presidents should as a matter of law or policy START new wars–where defense of the nation is not an issue–on their own initiative without public debate.  I will never concede that no matter how many presidents of either party engage in this conduct.

    So when will you address the real substance of my argument?

    My argument is that the imperial presidency is a BAD thing.  That the unilateral and constant use of force since Korea is BAD POLICY.  That WE as DEMOCRATS opposed this kind of intervention when it was done by presidents named Bush and Reagan.  That we supported a candidate in 2008 who expressly disavowed the imperial presidency.  And that were the president in office still named Bush or McCain, we would be beside ourselves over this.

    If you want to engage me on this topic, stop quoting boilerplate about the War Powers Act and address my critique.

    Would you support this if Bush were president?  Did you support Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you think this is the proper role for the U.S. military? Why or why not?