Revocation of authorization

A friend recently brought up an interesting point in a thread: the recent Congressional non-binding protest vote against the war in Iraq was a pretty half-assed (in fact, kind of cowardly) measure; it doesn’t actually require anyone to do anything. But there’s an alternative.

The War Powers Act requires that the Congress explicitly authorize any use of force, either by a declaration of war or other explicit statutory authorization; in the absence of such authorization, the President is required to report to the Congress every 60 days, and the Congress must explicitly (by passing a law) authorize a further 60 days of operations, or the President is legally required to withdraw forces. The Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq is such an explicit statutory authorization.

But what if the Congress were to pass a bill rescinding said authorization, and returning to the 60-day period required by the WPA? It’s not clear from the text of the WPA that such a rescindment is possible, but nor is it clear that it isn’t, and I think that given a clear Congressional intent to do so the courts would agree that it is within their power (and the spirit of the WPA) to do so. It could be drafted to restart the War Powers Act clock at the effective date of the bill, so that the President would be granted 60 days’ authorization immediately, but would need to re-apply at the end of that.

This would give the Congress direct, non-financial control over the conduct of the war: they would have the power, by simple non-passage of a bill, to “terminate any use of United States armed forces.” They would have a regular review authority, so they wouldn’t be required to simply withdraw immediately or later; in fact, they could even negotiate directly with the President about terms such as when withdrawals would occur. (Hopefully they would have common sense in not trying to micromanage a war, but I suspect that Congress’ innate avoidance of personal responsibility for controversial things will protect us from that)

What do people think about this? Should we start trying to prod our representatives to introduce such a measure?

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Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 18:03  Comments (31)  
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31 Comments

  1. I don’t think the representatives were actually interested in withdrawing from Iraq. If we do withdraw, and everything goes even worse (as we’d expect) there after they withdraw, then they’ll be blamed “cut and run”. So they found the much more appealing tactic of appearing like they’re opposed to it while not effecting any change.

  2. I don’t think the representatives were actually interested in withdrawing from Iraq. If we do withdraw, and everything goes even worse (as we’d expect) there after they withdraw, then they’ll be blamed “cut and run”. So they found the much more appealing tactic of appearing like they’re opposed to it while not effecting any change.

  3. In Athens during the Peloponnesian War (5th century B.C.), the generals of the army were elected positions, for a term of one year (although they could and often did serve several consecutive terms). Frequently, when one of the generals experienced any kind of setback, the citizens of Athens got angry and exiled him. As a result, many Athenian generals were inexperienced, because they never got the chance to learn from their mistakes. This contributed both to the length of the conflict (27 bloody years), and the Athens’ eventual loss to Sparta.
    Now, it was never a good idea for Athens to get involved with a war with Sparta in the first place. (Nor was it a good idea for Sparta to fight Athens.) Both city-states, not to mention the entire Greek world, were severely weakened by the war. But, had Athens conducted the war better (they certainly had the strategic and economic advantage over Sparta), it might have remained a costly mistake instead of becoming a complete disaster that resulted in utter defeat and ruin.
    The US is in a similar position with the war in Iraq. It was a bad idea to go there in the first place, as is clear from the results (although it may not have been as obvious before the fact). But that doesn’t have any bearing on how we should conduct ourselves now that we’re deeply involved.
    If we give control of our conduct in the war to the Congress, then politics will be the primary motivation for any decision. The example of the exiled Athenian generals shows how popular political decisions are frequently not sound military decisions (the opposite is true as well). Putting military matters up for a vote will likely have the effect of worsening the situation on the ground in Iraq, which is the opposite of what those voting want. (And, yes, it can get a *lot* worse.)
    I deeply disapprove of the war in Iraq, but I don’t think the US should pull out its troops as quickly as possible, because that would likely result in full on civil war (with an order of magnitude more death and destruction than exist today). I think we should pull out as soon as we can do so without leaving destruction in our wake. But that won’t be soon, so doing this won’t be popular, and that’s why I don’t think Congress will be able to make it happen. (I think our president realizes he has to do this, if only to save face. I’m not sure he’ll be able to pull it off, either, but I think he’ll try.)
    I think this is why the authors of the US constitution put military matters into the hands of one person (the president), even while giving most of the legal power to the representatives. The people need to have the ultimate power, but sometimes – and especially in military matters – they need to be separated from the immediate decisions because they are too short-sighted.
    So, no, I don’t think we should give Congress the power to force our troops to pull out with two months notice. I think we should continue to pressure the administration to look for ways to pull out without causing more bloodshed.

  4. In Athens during the Peloponnesian War (5th century B.C.), the generals of the army were elected positions, for a term of one year (although they could and often did serve several consecutive terms). Frequently, when one of the generals experienced any kind of setback, the citizens of Athens got angry and exiled him. As a result, many Athenian generals were inexperienced, because they never got the chance to learn from their mistakes. This contributed both to the length of the conflict (27 bloody years), and the Athens’ eventual loss to Sparta.
    Now, it was never a good idea for Athens to get involved with a war with Sparta in the first place. (Nor was it a good idea for Sparta to fight Athens.) Both city-states, not to mention the entire Greek world, were severely weakened by the war. But, had Athens conducted the war better (they certainly had the strategic and economic advantage over Sparta), it might have remained a costly mistake instead of becoming a complete disaster that resulted in utter defeat and ruin.
    The US is in a similar position with the war in Iraq. It was a bad idea to go there in the first place, as is clear from the results (although it may not have been as obvious before the fact). But that doesn’t have any bearing on how we should conduct ourselves now that we’re deeply involved.
    If we give control of our conduct in the war to the Congress, then politics will be the primary motivation for any decision. The example of the exiled Athenian generals shows how popular political decisions are frequently not sound military decisions (the opposite is true as well). Putting military matters up for a vote will likely have the effect of worsening the situation on the ground in Iraq, which is the opposite of what those voting want. (And, yes, it can get a *lot* worse.)
    I deeply disapprove of the war in Iraq, but I don’t think the US should pull out its troops as quickly as possible, because that would likely result in full on civil war (with an order of magnitude more death and destruction than exist today). I think we should pull out as soon as we can do so without leaving destruction in our wake. But that won’t be soon, so doing this won’t be popular, and that’s why I don’t think Congress will be able to make it happen. (I think our president realizes he has to do this, if only to save face. I’m not sure he’ll be able to pull it off, either, but I think he’ll try.)
    I think this is why the authors of the US constitution put military matters into the hands of one person (the president), even while giving most of the legal power to the representatives. The people need to have the ultimate power, but sometimes – and especially in military matters – they need to be separated from the immediate decisions because they are too short-sighted.
    So, no, I don’t think we should give Congress the power to force our troops to pull out with two months notice. I think we should continue to pressure the administration to look for ways to pull out without causing more bloodshed.

  5. Consider this as well… no President has ever recognized the Constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and it’s never really been put to a test. And, given the current administration — I don’t know if Bush would consider the termination of use of US armed forces as having the weight of law. In which case, hello Supreme Court.
    In any case, while I would love to see it pass both for symbolic and potential legal value — a bill to rescind the Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq would never make it through a filibuster, let alone get the 67 votes in the Senate to overturn a veto. If you’re a Republican Senator right now, your best bet is to talk moderate, keep anything that would force to choose between what the country wants and what Bush wants filibustered, and wait for the next President to come in and withdraw troops.

  6. Consider this as well… no President has ever recognized the Constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and it’s never really been put to a test. And, given the current administration — I don’t know if Bush would consider the termination of use of US armed forces as having the weight of law. In which case, hello Supreme Court.
    In any case, while I would love to see it pass both for symbolic and potential legal value — a bill to rescind the Authorization for Use of Force in Iraq would never make it through a filibuster, let alone get the 67 votes in the Senate to overturn a veto. If you’re a Republican Senator right now, your best bet is to talk moderate, keep anything that would force to choose between what the country wants and what Bush wants filibustered, and wait for the next President to come in and withdraw troops.

  7. Well written and very sound.
    I agree with your reasoning, but let’s take it to the next logical step.
    If Congress is not to have the power to meddle, then it should not prevent the surge in forces that President Bush is proposing, either.
    For the United States, the strategy should be either 1) Get out, or 2) Surge the forces necessary in order to accomplish the mission.
    Anything less would be to set the nation up for failure.

  8. Well written and very sound.
    I agree with your reasoning, but let’s take it to the next logical step.
    If Congress is not to have the power to meddle, then it should not prevent the surge in forces that President Bush is proposing, either.
    For the United States, the strategy should be either 1) Get out, or 2) Surge the forces necessary in order to accomplish the mission.
    Anything less would be to set the nation up for failure.

  9. Well written and very sound.
    I agree with your reasoning, but let’s take it to the next logical step.
    If Congress is not to have the power to meddle, then it should not prevent the surge in forces that President Bush is proposing, either.
    For the United States, the strategy should be either 1) Get out, or 2) Surge the forces necessary in order to accomplish the mission.
    Anything less would be to set the nation up for failure.

  10. I agree, but would modify (2) to the more general “do what it takes to accomplish the mission.” It’s not at all obvious to me that adding 20,000 troops would do that.

  11. I agree, but would modify (2) to the more general “do what it takes to accomplish the mission.” It’s not at all obvious to me that adding 20,000 troops would do that.

  12. Are you thus of the opinion that ‘do what it takes to accomplish the mission’ is an available choice?
    Assume for the moment that you get unbounded amount of US support.
    We’re really willing to throw arbitrary levels of resources at the problem, bankrupt the country if necessary, whole ball of wax.
    Can it be done?

  13. Are you thus of the opinion that ‘do what it takes to accomplish the mission’ is an available choice?
    Assume for the moment that you get unbounded amount of US support.
    We’re really willing to throw arbitrary levels of resources at the problem, bankrupt the country if necessary, whole ball of wax.
    Can it be done?

  14. The original mission, no, because the original mission (establish a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq) was fundamentally unobtainable. Even the various “good” modifications of the original mission are probably not possible at this point. Right now I think that what’s on the table are various ways of getting out while leaving behind a situation that’s as unbad as possible for us. (I hesitate to use the word “good”) And even most of those possibilities could be very difficult.

  15. The original mission, no, because the original mission (establish a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq) was fundamentally unobtainable. Even the various “good” modifications of the original mission are probably not possible at this point. Right now I think that what’s on the table are various ways of getting out while leaving behind a situation that’s as unbad as possible for us. (I hesitate to use the word “good”) And even most of those possibilities could be very difficult.

  16. Concur. I doubt that a single brigade would make much of a difference.
    I believe that the original military commanders, many of whom have been since forced into retirement, have a much more accurate assessment of the situation.
    Stability in Iraq probably requires a significant presence on the ground of upwards of 100,000 troops.
    Victory requires total battlespace dominance, which we do not have at the moment.

  17. Concur. I doubt that a single brigade would make much of a difference.
    I believe that the original military commanders, many of whom have been since forced into retirement, have a much more accurate assessment of the situation.
    Stability in Iraq probably requires a significant presence on the ground of upwards of 100,000 troops.
    Victory requires total battlespace dominance, which we do not have at the moment.

  18. 100k total or 100k additional?
    I’m not convinced that we can still model this in military terms and talk about “battlespace dominance.” That sort of dominance could force enemy groups into hiding and quiescence, but I’m not at all convinced that this would cause them to permanently close up shop. To do that, you would have to convince them to disarm and join the political process, which in turn would require convincing them that they wouldn’t be killed (even after the Americans left) if they did so — something which at the moment is palpably false. Any military manoeuvering strikes me as useful at this point only to the extent that it’s a part of a broader political strategy to achieve this, and I don’t see convincing signs of that.

  19. 100k total or 100k additional?
    I’m not convinced that we can still model this in military terms and talk about “battlespace dominance.” That sort of dominance could force enemy groups into hiding and quiescence, but I’m not at all convinced that this would cause them to permanently close up shop. To do that, you would have to convince them to disarm and join the political process, which in turn would require convincing them that they wouldn’t be killed (even after the Americans left) if they did so — something which at the moment is palpably false. Any military manoeuvering strikes me as useful at this point only to the extent that it’s a part of a broader political strategy to achieve this, and I don’t see convincing signs of that.

  20. An additional 100k. Personally, I think the figure should be higher, but I defer to the experts in this matter.
    You’re right. If we gained battlespace dominance, it would drive the enemy into hiding. As long as they were unable to carry out attacks, the pace of rebuilding the infrastructure would quicken, the size of the Iraqi military and police forces could be increased much more easily, the economy would thrive in a more stable environment – in short, suppressing these foreign insurrgent would allow the nation to get on its feet quicker. Which means an earlier exit strategy.
    But right now, we can’t accomlish anything because all of our available resources in the region is being used to fight insurrgents and patch up the damage that they do. And progress in everything else is slowed as a result.

  21. An additional 100k. Personally, I think the figure should be higher, but I defer to the experts in this matter.
    You’re right. If we gained battlespace dominance, it would drive the enemy into hiding. As long as they were unable to carry out attacks, the pace of rebuilding the infrastructure would quicken, the size of the Iraqi military and police forces could be increased much more easily, the economy would thrive in a more stable environment – in short, suppressing these foreign insurrgent would allow the nation to get on its feet quicker. Which means an earlier exit strategy.
    But right now, we can’t accomlish anything because all of our available resources in the region is being used to fight insurrgents and patch up the damage that they do. And progress in everything else is slowed as a result.

  22. Concern: Rebuilding infrastructure and creating a stable economy may have been enough a few years ago, but now that may not suffice, because of the much-heightened level of ethnic and sectarian tensions and the cycle of revenge. Lebanon got into serious trouble several times in the past few decades, even with a solid economy, because sectarian tensions got too high; how much more so in Iraq, where people have been butchering each other by the dozens every day?
    I really don’t see a solution that can come out of this other than partition. The current situation is like the worst parts of the Balkan situation combined with some uniquely Middle Eastern levels of violence.

  23. Concern: Rebuilding infrastructure and creating a stable economy may have been enough a few years ago, but now that may not suffice, because of the much-heightened level of ethnic and sectarian tensions and the cycle of revenge. Lebanon got into serious trouble several times in the past few decades, even with a solid economy, because sectarian tensions got too high; how much more so in Iraq, where people have been butchering each other by the dozens every day?
    I really don’t see a solution that can come out of this other than partition. The current situation is like the worst parts of the Balkan situation combined with some uniquely Middle Eastern levels of violence.

  24. Perhaps. But I’m not sure the American people, including Democrats, are ready for outright removal of US forces from Iraq.
    So if we have to go in, then we go in with overwhelming force.

  25. Perhaps. But I’m not sure the American people, including Democrats, are ready for outright removal of US forces from Iraq.
    So if we have to go in, then we go in with overwhelming force.

  26. I’m suggesting a third possibility — that top priority needs to be setting up a political exit strategy, possibly including partition (and all the trouble that would lead to), and that all military decisions need to be made in the context of achieving that.

  27. I’m suggesting a third possibility — that top priority needs to be setting up a political exit strategy, possibly including partition (and all the trouble that would lead to), and that all military decisions need to be made in the context of achieving that.

  28. So a freeze on a surge?
    Frankly, if we’re going to stick around, I think an immediate ramp up of forces is required.

  29. So a freeze on a surge?
    Frankly, if we’re going to stick around, I think an immediate ramp up of forces is required.

  30. Is there an immediate, critical problem which an extra brigade will solve? If not, I would delay deploying additional forces until there’s a strategy which can use them more effectively.

  31. Is there an immediate, critical problem which an extra brigade will solve? If not, I would delay deploying additional forces until there’s a strategy which can use them more effectively.


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