Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Congress and the War

A lot of commentary has been put forth on the limitations of what exactly Congress can do to limit President Bush's escalation of the Iraq war. A lot of this commentary, in my opinion, is quite wrong.

Kevin Drum and Big Tent Democrat argue that the only Constitutional option available to Congress to limit President Bush's war making is to cut off funding. They argue that something like Obama's proposal to limit the number of troops that Bush may use in Iraq is an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers. I am decidedly unconvinced by their arguments as I'll show below.

For other view in opposition to Drum and Big Tent see Matthew Yglasias and Mark Kleiman.

The first place to start in understanding why Drum and Big Tent are wrong is to read Glen Greenwald's recounting of how the Congress has, in fact, already exercised the powers that folks are arguing it can't. In 1993 Congress expressly limited the forces which could be used in Somalia and set dates as to when those forces had to be removed. The passage of those resolutions limiting Presidential authority was lead by Republicans in Congress, including many of those arguing now that such legislation is unconstitutional. At the time, not only were had these Republicans not yet discovered the unconstitutionality of the legislation, but no one else was apparently aware of it as well. The sudden discovery of this principal well into the third century of the Republic's existence suggests to me that it is not built on a firm foundation.

The arguments for limited allowed Congressional response seem to me to depend upon very odd assumptions about the inherent power of a "commander-in-chief". The arguments seem to insist that it is an inherent power of a "commander-in-chief" to use any and all forces under his command to achieve whatever objectives have been assigned to him. In other words the only option open to the people of the United States should we deem that some limited military action against some foreign power is called for are:

  1. Forgo the action and live with the condition that called for the action, however dire it might be.
  2. Declare war, in which case the President may use every last bit of the military of the United States against this power, however unwise such a large use of force might seem

The one option which is absolutely forbidden to us is to declare war and direct the President to eliminate the condition which provoked hostilities using only that portion of the military deemed wise to use. Why this option should be forbidden is a complete mystery to me.

At every level of command in the entire structure of the United States military it is a perfectly normal event that a commander is

  1. assigned an objective to achieve
  2. instructed as to what portion of the forces under his command may be dedicated to the objective.

There is no general rule that if an officer is assigned some objective that he may always use the entirety of his forces to achieve it. Military command would, in general, be rendered impossible if a commanding officer could not order a subordinate to accomplish some tasks using a portion of the subordinate's forces while leaving the rest in place. I have seen absolutely no reason why the President as commander-in-chief should not face the same condition.

In the President's case the military objectives he is given are set by Congress via a declaration of war. And just like any other commander of some portion of the United States Army and Navy, it is perfectly reasonable for Congress to assign to the President not only the objective but what forces he may use to achieve it.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Habeas Corpus

Link to Daily Kos: Clearing Up The Confusion Over Habeas Corpus

The above link is to a useful diary on Daily Kos on Habeas Corpus, the Supreme Court and AG Gonzales.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jim Webb is very good

Link to Daily Kos: Another SOTU Thread, and full speech

Ok, Sen. Webb is very good. His presentation was exactly right, his comments were exactly right. One thing that struck me in particular was that while he was extremely harsh, extremely tough on Bush, he was also perfectly civil. There was nothing rude in what Webb said, but I doubt that there were many supporters of Bush who were not flushed with anger at the way the President was put down by Virginia's junior Senator. If more Democrats can follow his model of presenting himself, we will do very well indeed.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Sub 30

Poll: Bush Approval Rating At New Low, On Eve Of State Of Union, President's Approval Rating Falls To 28%, A New Low - CBS News
Look, for reality based folks, and for our forces in Iraq, Bush's approval has been a slow tortuous decline. Unfortunately, that is the way these things go. People just do not immediately give up on something they have invested in. But as we are seeing now, his approval will only decline. Likewise, as I've written earlier, it will take some time for opposition in the House and Senate to grow until Bush can be made irrelevant. It will happen, and it will happen this year, I believe. Probably before the summer is out. Also note here how the congressional dynamic is changing already. Sen. John Warner is going to introduce a resolution in opposition to escalation. Warner is a very influential Senator on the Republican side. His loss to the opposition will seriously change the willingness of other Republicans to support the President. Recall that for anything to be done, we will eventually need some 16 or 17 Republican Senators to support the opposition.

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Update [9:40 PM 01/22/2007] And look at this from the AP. More on Warner's defection, and Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Norm Coleman have joined the fun. The number of defecting Republicans in the Senate is up to five, and Warner counts for a lot.

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Atrios is the blogworld's first and foremost commentator on today's "serious". His blog post here gives a good idea of what is meant today by "serious" people. Atrios is frequently mystified by our media's attention to "serious" people and why the are taken ... well seriously. What one needs to understand is what is meant by "serious" people. Here are the main points about "serious" people:

  1. "Serious" people see that the threat of Islamic extremism is an immediate, existential threat to the United States of America, all its institutions, all its people and all its property. It is a threat that transcends any threat previously seen by this nation; greater than the American Civil War, greater than the combined might of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and greater than the threat of the Soviet Union at its peak. We are all in immediate, life and death peril.
  2. "Serious" people see that the population of this country is properly divided into two classes, those who, like our pundit class and "serious" politicians and major business leaders, who should be in charge of running things and making decisions, and other, different, people who are properly suited to do things like actually fight in wars, risk their lives and fortunes to defend this country from horrible existential threats (see above).
  3. "Serious" people recognize that these two classes described above should never get mixed up. Trying to have members of one class perform the tasks of the other will be ruinous in the face of any existential threat (see above).
  4. "Serious" people further recognize that any effort to weaken the social or economic position of the decision making class or anything which tends to remove the people currently occupying that class from their privileged positions is likewise ruinous to the nation facing dire peril (see above)

With that in mind one can now understand "How it Works" and the mystification shown by Atrios can be dispelled.

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Friday, January 19, 2007


There has been much talk round about the internets, in lefty circles, about impeaching the President. Indeed, there has been a fair amount of consternation about the failure of the Democrats to get cracking on this and start impeaching the man ASAP. Now I am no fan of Mr Bush's, and agree fully that the sooner he leaves office the better. Immediately does seem too long a wait, and two years is hard to imagine. However, those dreaming of impeachment need to keep a few things in mind.

The first thing to consider is the Constitution and what it actually says about impeachment. Specifically, it says:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. [emphasis added]

Now he can be impeached, as Clinton was, with a simple majority vote in the House. However, he can also stay in office, like Clinton did, with anything less than two-thirds of the Senators voting to convict. So keep in mind two things (sorry for the repetition, but it is important)

  1. We need to have two-thirds of the Senate willing to vote for conviction to remove him
  2. Any attempt to remove him from office that fails, will make him much, much stronger than he is now.

Things can still get a lot worse if an attempt has been made to remove him from office and that attempt fails. For George Bush to do harm to this country he needs to have people in the executive branch do things he orders. Many people will obey Bush's illegal orders if he is strong and secure who will resist them when he is weak. Attempting, and failing, to remove him will embolden those people.

This brings me to the current set of bills the Democrats are putting forth that many folks argue are too little, too weak. Consider this, if we can't get two-thirds of the Senate to vote for a non-binding resolution expressing Senate disagreement with the President on Iraq, or two-thirds willing to override a Presidential veto on funding, then there is no chance is Hell that we will get two-thirds for impeachment. However, if the Democrats can get a growing number of Republicans to vote for these lesser things, and if the Republican disaffection with Mr. Bush keeps growing, and Mr. Bush's popularity keeps falling, then the possibility of veto proof majorities for truly restrictive legislation become possible. I think that it is this process that the Democrats are starting and that this process is the only chance to rein the President in. The flip side of this argument is that if the votes to impeach the President ever do materialize in the Senate then the votes to tie his hands with legislation will already have been present for some time.

As an aside, the reality is that given what the Constitution says on the subject of impeachment and the party distribution in the Senate, the question of impeachment is entirely in the hands of the Republicans. That is just the way things are. We need to work within the political reality that exists, not the one we wish existed. We are, recall, the reality based community.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Our Press Corps

A beautiful indication of where our press corps is today can be read in this article by Howard Fineman in Newsweek Fineman writes:
Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course, and that is especially true when, as now, much of the early nomination race is based in the U.S. Capitol.

Read the whole article, but this quote is priceless, because it is really awful, and because he really means it. For most of the country the choice of elected officials is a matter of some importance, especially with our armed forces in the line of danger. But I have come to believe that folks like Fineman, the leaders of our discourse, actually feel that it is no more that "high school writ large". That is sad, truly sad.

I can't resist one more comment. From the end of his article
Sometimes they are cheered. Sometimes they are booed. Sometimes—and this is the worst fate—they get laughed at silently.

Yes Howard, sometimes they do get laughed at silently. I am quite sure that is true.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More of the Same

In looking up information for the last post I did, I came across two recent speeches by our President. Consider first his most recent address explaining his decision to escalate in Iraq by 20,000 soldiers. Now check out his opening remarks before a press conference in October of 2006. I encourage folks to read them. They are eerily similar. There has been no substantive change in his view on the situation in Iraq over the past four months. This new policy really is just "stay the course" in different words. He uses the same buzz phrases in both. For example, in October he said

I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied, either.

In January

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me.

In October, in addition to our military effort, our plan included

Yesterday, our Ambassador to Iraq, Zal Khalilzad laid out a three-step approach. First, we're working with political and religious leaders across Iraq, urging them to take steps to restrain their followers and stop sectarian violence.

Second, we're helping Iraqi leaders to complete work on a national compact to resolve the most difficult issues dividing their country. The new Iraqi government has condemned violence from all quarters and agreed to a schedule for resolving issues, such as disarming illegal militias and death squads, sharing oil revenues, amending the Iraqi constitution, and reforming the de-Baathification process.

Third, we're reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, and asking them to support the Iraqi government's efforts to persuade Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and accept national reconciliation. The international community is also supporting the international compact that outlines the support that will be provided to Iraq as it moves forward with its own program of reform.

In January, in addition to our military effort, our plan included

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend 10 billion dollars of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws — and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

... and ...

We will use America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists — and a strategic threat to their survival. These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors — and they must step up their support for Iraq's unity government. We endorse the Iraqi government's call to finalize an International Compact that will bring new economic assistance in exchange for greater economic reform. And on Friday, Secretary Rice will leave for the region — to build support for Iraq, and continue the urgent diplomacy required to help bring peace to the Middle East.

The January speech gives very little in substantive change. Really, we have only two things, one is the claim that until now we only had forces in Baghdad sufficient to clear areas, but not to hold them. The 20,000 additional troops will make up that difference, although no argument or authority was cited to support the idea that 20,000 is enough to make a difference. Secondly, we will be adding additional air and naval forces to try an threaten Iran and Syria away from involvement in Iraq. So, this speech is indeed "stay the course" with a side order of "expand the war".

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The New Plan

Ok, so we now have Bush's new plan for Iraq with the wonderful escalation, oh excuse me, surge of 20,000 troops. Many folks have blogged and commented on it's many flaws and problems, military, economic, social and political. But one thing I want to put down is the extent to which, even if you take his arguments at face value, the President still comes across as a fool. Let me explain.

For example, Bush describes the sequence of events that got us to this stage in the following words:

When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together — and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq — particularly in Baghdad — overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. al-Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra — in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.

Now the Miami Herald has an excellent article describing the degree to which Bush, and his administration, are misleading the public about this sequence of events. In short Shia death squads were active some 15 months before the bombing of the Golden Mosque in February of 2006. But even if we accept Bush at his word (absurd I know, but bear with me) his description of events does the President no credit. The Golden Mosque, as I said, was struck in February of 2006. Prior to that, according to the administration, things were going well and Iraq was well on course for becoming a peaceful democracy. However, in the time since the Mosque bombing sectarian violence has been spinning out of control, bringing us to this stage where radical change is needed in our policy and most analysts would say that we are near to loosing this war.

Now how astute can the Commander-in-Chief of our military be if it takes him 11 months to notice that the blissful peace of Iraq's near transformation to a peaceful Democracy has spun out into a hell-hole of sectarian violence. And remember, this is his version of events to put his performance in the best light. A more accurate description of what happens is even less flattering to the President.

Additionally, Bush was insisting, right up to the election in November, that we were winning and had sufficient forces in theater to meet our needs. Only since November, and really December with the issuing of the ISG's report, has he discovered that the bombing of the Mosque nearly a year ago requires increasing troop levels. An increase with virtually no support anywhere in the nation and an increase of a very small proportion of the forces currently available. That is the Bush team's best argument in their favor.

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