Monday, December 26, 2005
The Iraq conflict within a few months will enter its fourth year, and the discussion on both sides is so lacking in clarity that Macbeth could aptly describe it: "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". If the constitution, however seriously flawed, is the only check on federal encroachments on our liberty, then all federal policy and action must be held to a rigorous constitutional test. And by constitution, I mean the pre-14th amendment constitution, since that amendment so unbalanced the powers between the state and federal governments that it has been a major factor in our current problems. But there is a further test. The policy adopted should be wise. Wise in the sense that it enhances, or at least does not diminish, the rights to liberty, life, and property, of Americans. For example, it would be constitutional for Congress to declare war on Canada, but this would be unwise and contrary to enhancing the well-being of Americans, much less Canadians. So how does the Iraq conflict measure up to this test? We must understand the current Iraq conflict as a continuation of the confict of 1990 -1991. Saddam was a brutal dictator and he invaded and occupied Kuwait. Bush the first soon announced "This will not stand". But the crucial question was not asked, and that is: Under what authority would Bush the first be able to enforce his position and go to war against Iraq to expel it from Kuwait? In order to do so, Congress should have declared war, but in the extra-constitutional practice of the last 55 years, Congress authorized Bush, like a Caesar, to take to the field at his own discretion, in the absence of a declaration of war. This abdication by Congress is part of a general trend in government of declining accountability with increasing power. Thus, Persian Gulf War I was an unconstitutional invasion of a country that was not threatening the United States, under an abstract principle of stopping foreign dictators at Presidential discretion. There is also no constitutional provision for removing foreign dictators, no matter how egregious they may be, in the absence of a declaration of war. The outcome of this intervention was to convert Iraq from a neutral seller of oil to an enemy we had to monitor at great expense for the next 12 years, before going to war again. Governments count on their subjects having short memories. We supported Saddam in the Iran - Iraq war, but in Orwellian fashion, the friends of former decades become the current enemies. After 9/11, Saddam's supposed store of weapons of mass destruction became the reason for a second war. This war clearly was initiated on a flawed premise, but we will never be able to know whether, based on the classified information at hand, Saddam was clearly a threat. Nevertheless, Gulf War II is unconstitutional for the same reason Gulf War I was, a lack of a declaration of war. However, for point of argument, let us ask even if the war met its stated justification and was declared, what should be the limit of Presidential authority? Does authority extend to reconstructing a foreign country in our image once the enemy has been defeated? This is a nebulous area...but if it is not truly vital to removing the threat, I would argue it is an unconstitutional use of federal resources in a kind of foreign social engineering. Defending freedom at home should mean a judicious use of deterrence and force to quell actual threats. Interfering in the domestic institutions of another land will produce enmity which will have to be dealt with in future years, with further expense and reductions in liberty for Americans. The neo-conservative vision of remaking Arab dictatorships fails both tests. It is neither constitutionally authorized, nor is it wise in terms of promoting the liberty and prosperity of Americans. The federal government has no other legitimate responsibilities.