Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Congress Isn't a Collective Commander in Chief

In voting for a firm date to surrender in Iraq and dictating how the war should be fought, the House of Representatives overstepped the boundaries of its Constitutional powers. The Senate’s mandates for fighting the war did so as well, while their “recommended” date of March ’08 for the President to have raised the white flag came close.

In trying to provide constitutionally required oversight, they wrongly and intentionally stepped into the arena of Congressional overreach.

Not only “wrong-headed” in its effect on both short and long term national security, as well as overreaching, setting these dates violates a multitude of lessons learned by many generations of American leadership.

One of the most significant, as historians have pointed out, came from George Washington and his push to have the Constitution grant sole power to a single individual, the President, to serve as the Commander in Chief for the armed forces. Our nation’s struggle for independence showed the harm and futility of having numerous individuals trying to direct the army and the war effort.

Congress trying to step in as a collective commander in chief also violates one of the most steadfast principles of war fighting and leadership, unity of command. Having one person in charge at every level from fire team to the Commander in Chief is a lesson learned and reaffirmed many times through history.

Infringing on the Executive authority to act as the sole Commander in Chief and having 535 others try to act as generals sets a damaging precedent, ignores history’s lessons, and would have grave, permanent consequences for our national security.

Some of their actions over the last month show why 535 members of congress shouldn’t be generals or acting as a collective commander in chief.

A General won’t surrender when he still has the capacity to fight and would most certainly not plan for or forecast to the enemy the day of his own demise. Although disappointed with Senator Ben Nelson changing his vote, he was wise to say he’d vote against a bill coming out of conference if it included a hard, fast date for withdrawal. The same can’t be said of Senator Hagel.

Generals have spent a lifetime studying the art of war and conflict, allowing them to make sound tactical and strategic decisions. Most in Congress do not have that background and many of those who do are prone to making political decisions instead of national security decisions. Others often cherry pick news and advice to suit a political agenda rather than consider intelligence and advice in pursuit of a strategically sound decision for national security.

A General and a Commander in Chief would both have benchmarks for success, as Senator Nelson rightly proposed, but would never tell the enemy what they were, thereby allowing the enemy the advantage of focusing his limited resources on preventing those benchmarks from ever being reached.

A General would never intentionally short his troops of the funds for the equipment and training they need. John Murtha proposed legislation which gave the appearance of trying to take care of the troops and insure they were combat ready. But he slipped up and let his true intentions for our troops be known. He admitted that his legislation was intended to guarantee “They won’t have the equipment, they don’t have the training and they won’t be able to do the work.” A true military leader cares so much for his troops that he would never put them in that situation. Others in Congress caught on to his intentions, and his proposal faded.

But now, Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb have submitted a very similar amendment in the Senate. One that looks hauntingly familiar to the Murtha proposal. One that gives the appearance of trying to take care of the troops, but in detail and implementation would be as harmful as the Murtha proposal. Are their intentions the same, to guarantee our troops won’t have the equipment and training they need, and thus by default, force us out of Iraq while endangering our troops in the process?

A General is not likely to trade money for the safety of his troops or country, as those whose votes were swayed by millions of dollars in pork were.

Generals and the Commander in Chief lack the luxury of sitting around and debating an issue to death at the expense of the troops. If funding for our troops is not approved, it potentially leaves them in harms way without having the means to operate. If Congress refuses to pass appropriations for our troops without all the strings and pork attached and the President vetoes them, funds start to run out sometime in April, August at the latest.

But in the end, maybe that’s the plan of the Democratic leadership: force a situation where they cut off the funds for the troops and the war without actually having to commit a vote or legislation to do so. They could simply point the finger at the President, try to blame him rather than accept responsibility for their actions, and provide themselves cover from the political consequences of reaffirming the notion they don’t have the right stuff for leading our country during a time of war.

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