Saturday, May 24


YESTERDAY I genuinely imagined I'd explained that "The President is Commander-in-Chief in time of war" thing, then realized I didn't, as did some of youse, except that you, naturally enough, thought I didn't understand the Constitution. The President is Commander-in-Chief of All the Armed Forces, All of the Time (maybe Senator McCain would like to take this as his personal motto/Presidential Jingle); what I was trying to get at is a distinction between de jure and de facto. In time of peace the President is really not acting as Supreme Commander, but rather as the civilian head of the government which controls the military, specifically as the boss of the boss (the Secretary of Defense) of the bosses (the Secretaries of the respective branches) to whom the actual military officers holding the various Commands report, and as a sort of chairman of the board of the Joint Chiefs, except one with an absolute veto, technically. But Commands and promotions to general officer require the approval of Congress, and the President is not personally moving units across situation maps in the War Room. He could not, for example, order the entire US European Command to pack up and march to Turkey, without invoking the War Powers Act or without a Congressional Declaration of War.

(By the way, having been educated in a previous century, I'm using "at war" here to mean "declared war", however quaint an idea that may be; a Presidential emergency, of course, is now our way of declaring war without running the risk that any of our major business executives might wind up in prison if anyone gets a good look at the books. McCain, et. al., have simply chosen to redefine this as "war", and then redefine "emergency" to mean "something potentially politically important which is still buzzing around un-swatted". )

This may be a distinction without a difference, especially now, but that's part of the point: the President's emergency power over the military is supposed to, and needs desperately again to be, reined in by what we used to call democracy. In a sense, John McCain is running for Commander-in-Chief, since his public positions seem to accept as axiomatic a country which is in a perpetual emergency war, one which only the Commander-in-Chief can terminate, unless Congress actually finds the will to defund the thing. Or, put another way, unless nothing. This is another sense in which one asks to be supplied with the specifics of McCain's solution for the Press and the Public "losing" wars we have otherwise already won. Because of Vietnam, the Bush II administration was unwilling and unable to ask for a conscription to achieve reasonable troops levels for the "war" in Iraq.  No dirty hippie protesters or Fifth Column librul media forced that on them; it's Chuck Rangel, of course, who's been trying to enact one, not our thwarted C-in-C.  This time they really did give a War and Nobody Came, except the people who were already there.  We might also point out that since are prisons are presently filled with casualties of the War on Drugs, a future Commander might eventually be faced with the ultimate problem facing the Guy with the Gun: unless everyone obeys, you either have to shoot, use it as a club, or surrender the advantage all together. It's not too early to begin asking McCain which course he plans to follow.


Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Excellent and thought provoking. As you know the War Powers Act has been used a handful of times, however, it isn't regarded as constitutional by any president. But the Supreme Court refused to consider the issue on the grounds that it is a political question rather than a constitutional question.

Congress authorized the use of force--which isn't a declaration of war--in Iraq but they were literally lied to and thus made their decision based on a lie. Is it illegal? Is it impeachable? It is and it is if one has the votes to consider it so and to take action. But we impeached a man over a private, extramarital affair that was not illegal--unless you buy that it was sexual harassment, but no legal argument was made that it was.

My point is the perception of power is what makes a president and a commander in chief. JFK couldn't get the military to follow his orders over removing missiles from Turkey and couldn't get the military interested at least at first in the riot that was Oxford, Miss. over James Meredith. He was afraid he couldn't control them over Cuba, Russia and more missiles.

Was he the commander in chief? Of course. Were his orders delayed, ignored, bent? Sure. Terrifying, isn't it?

John McCain terrifies me but so did that list of military operations since 1945 you ran a few days ago. We will go where it is in the interests of the powerful to go. And young men and women will die. And evidently, even if it is a lie, nothing will be done about it.

Anonymous said...

Declarations? We don't need no stinkin' declarations. Nice use of "quaint".

Anonymous said...

Yes, these points are well taken.

My idea is that commander in chief is not necessarily a bullshit thing, that Roosevelt was a Commander-in-Chief when he managed to figure out that George Marshall was good to run the military, and to back him us as Marshall fired the incompetents and assholes who had theretofore infested the military or who got in the way without particular previous experience. Fired old friends because they couldn't cut it, and sent them back to Kansas with no apologies, they's a war on, son.

And then of course Roosevelt backed Marshall when he jumped guys like Ikensaur and Stillwell into positions of power, and Roosevelt backed Admiral King who backed Admiral Nimitz, and Roosevelt with Marshall and King played MacArthur like a fiddle, and used his sorry ass for what it was worth.

Yo, those guys were good. WWII wasn't a greatest generation, it was just guys like your dad and mine under competent leadership. They were almost perfect, from Roosevelt on down, and they kicked ass. They wrapped the whole thing up in three years, with hardly a tank or a gallon of gas held in reserve.

I guess the difference is that when somebody tries to take over the world and make all your base belong to us it may require some semblance of leadership and not this new brand of post-cold war television bumper-sticker Ronald Reagan bullshit, so go easy on these goobers like John McCain who, although they may have been shot down and rubber-hosed, will never be tested by anything tougher than a Mexican wanting to move to Riverside, CA, and take over the domestic service industry.

Given a real war, it is not that shocking that a competent President would order the entire US command to mover to Turkey, and I think one maybe did, in effect. The problem is that this here isn't a real war, it's an advertising campaign based on some nutwads nabbing an airplane and flying it into a building, and getting lucky so the building fell down. That's not much of a war compared to, say, carrier groups sinking the battleships in your advanced Pacific base and then threatening to bomb the shit out of Hollywood, or at least threatening to send a submarine or two to lob a few shells at some oil derricks in Long Beach. God only knows how anyone at all could handle this new threat. Jaysus Christ, Mooslims box-cutting the throats of airline pilots, what can we possibly do?

What is it with this War on Drugs fixation? I thought that drugs were good things. For instance, marijuana is a superlative adjunct to sex. What's to go to war about? Cut us some slack, dude.

Anonymous said...

Just curious: Are the British prime minister and his European equivalents considered Commanders-in-Chief? Do their soldiers and sailors salute an elected civilian leader the way ours are compelled to do?

As I said, just curious.