is it possible for congress to prevent war? a response to i,voter

The blog “I, Voter” responded to my recent criticism of Rachel Maddow. In my original post, I didn’t think it was realistic to expect Congress or law to restrain the executive’s tendency to start wars. From I, Voter:

This is too fatalistic. Taking advantage of “wiggle room” or finding a way to “wage war in other guises” requires some effort and some expenditure of political capital. A weak impediment is an impediment nonetheless, and can be well worth having. Anyway, I suspect Ms Maddow’s policy proposals, should they be enacted, would not be as impotent as Mr Rojas contends.

No need to take my word for it – look at the recent evidence. In Spring 2011, the Obama administration, and some NATO allies, supported Libyan rebels. No declaration of war. A few in Congress complained, but nothing happened.War went on as scheduled.

Other examples: even though evidence was weak or fabricated, Congress was unable to stop the 2003 Iraq War. The UN approved it. In Afghanistan, we’ve expanded the war. Originally, the goal was to stop al-Qaeda. No, we’re in a possibly endless nation building enterprise.

And the list goes on and on: Korea was a “police action,” Congress was weak when Johnson demanded an escalation of the Vietnam war, Congress did nothing when Nixon invaded Cambodia. Congress couldn’t/didn’t do anything to stop the little wars in Haiti (1992), Somalia, (1991), Lebanon (1980s), Grenada (1983), Bosnia (1996), and Panama (1989).

If someone can show me an institutional restraint on war that actually prevented some wars, I’ll be happy to agree with them. But, as far as I can see, they just don’t work.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 21, 2012 at 12:06 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

7 Responses

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  1. Re: the statement above that it is not “realistic to expect Congress or law to restrain the executive’s tendency to start wars” (which the evidence supports, imo)…

    Mills ‘The Power Elite’ in combination with his ‘Causes of WWIII’ come to mind here, because he made the same point how many decades ago, and even did so in an organizational context. Namely that (1) Questions of war and peace are settled by power elites at the heads of particular organizations. And (2) Congress is not one of these organizations.



    April 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

  2. Congress created the Navy in 1798 in response to the Barbary pirates. War was not declared either time, though the US Navy and Marines did act. So, this is not a new problem.

    As for Haiti, Lebanon, Bosnia, Somalia, (and Korea and Vietnam), war is something that nations do. They send ambassadors home because talking has proved fruitless. Absent a nation, war per se does not obtain.

    Interestingly, considering Vietnam and Cambodia, President Nixon vetoed the War Powers Act of 1973, perhaps speaking for his power elite.

    Congress has the ultimate power of the purse, by definition beginning with the lower house. They lack only the will. But Congressional power is a matter of circumstance and person. Between the presidencies of Jackson and Lincoln, there had been Adams, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, and Benton. In the 1940s and 50s, were Taft, Goldwater, Humphrey, Johnson, and Rayburn. In our time, only Dr. Newton L. comes close, if he even makes the mark. A commanding speaker and an insightful thinker, he holds little sway within his own fragmented party and none outside of it. The Democrat party has no one even that stature. Thus, in our generation, Congress has been weak. Nothing requires this, however.



    April 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

  3. “Congress was unable to stop the 2003 Iraq War. The UN approved it.”




    April 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm

  4. Guillermo: It is true that the UN never passed a resolution saying “go ahead, attack Iraq.” Instead, it passed a resolution stating that Iraq was in violation of other resolutions banning WMDs (res. 1441). This was taken as de facto approval for use of force to prevent further development of WMDs. The reason is that violations of treaties are usually the legal precondition for the inter-state use of force.

    But let’s return to the bigger point. Even if I am completely wrong, the UN at most slightly delayed the Iraq War. The institution, by itself, doesn’t seem to put a dent in war making and the Iraq War is an example.



    April 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  5. @ Guillermo: Once again, I find Fabio right on the big picture and wrong on the details. He’s a great blogger and org theorist, but geo-politics scholar he is not.



    April 24, 2012 at 5:30 am

  6. “Once again, I find Fabio right on the big picture and wrong on the details.”

    Me too. The problem is that the details can be dangerous. Resolution 1441 was not a carte blanche for war, it was an exhortation for the Hussein regime to make even more allowances to international inspectors inside Iraqi territory (which he did up until the US and its allies invaded the country). In fact, most of the members of the Security Council were in opposition to the war.

    But yes, the point that the UN is for the most part powerless to stop war is true.



    April 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm

  7. UN might have been powerless – but in the Danish discussion about whether we should have entered that war, the UN resolution 1441 is of utmost importance, for everyone arguing that we should not have entered the war without a clear UN backing.
    So, wasn’t able to prevent it, but still plays a clear symbolic role.



    April 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm

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