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Renaming of camps and forts

The cultural change movement is seeking to erase our history rather than understand it and learn from it.  As part of this these “progressives” have launched a full scale, frontal attack on our heritage, our history, and the traditions of the US Army. I was born at Fort Benning when my father was stationed there in the days leading up to World War II.  When I was several months old, we moved to Fort Bragg from which the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to North Africa to fight Nazism and fascism. Today, we face a form of domestic intellectual and cultural warfare that is potentially more dangerous than many of the other threats that we have faced.

What do you think of when you hear the following names: Camp Beauregard and Fort Polk in Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas? For this old soldier, I think of National Guard and reserve training centers, a national training center, the Army Signal Center, the home of the 18th Airborne Corps, birthplace, Airborne and Ranger school, the Army Logistics Center, the Army Aviation Center, an armored corps, etc.

It would be interesting to poll past and present members of the US Army and to ask them if they ever even thought about the source of the name of the fort or camp where they were stationed or training. I, for one, did not. I related a specific fort to the activities on that fort and the units traditionally stationed there.  Allegiance was not to a fort but the unit I was assigned to.

On the other side of the equation are those who point at the individual Confederate generals for whom these ten forts and camps in the south are named.  Some argue that each of these generals was a traitor, an incompetent, and a slaveholder. Their treachery is a fact, but in many cases, their military genius is widely studied to this day. We should have this debate, but a wholesale rewriting of history to serve political or pseudo-cultural ends is dangerous and decidedly un-American. In the current zeitgeist, not only do these former generals come up for attack, but in recent days mobs have defaced memorials honoring Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator himself, and abolitionist Matthias Baldwin. So let us have a debate, but never give in to the mob.

This is a watershed moment in our nation’s history. I was in high school when the National Guard was called in to enforce the Supreme Court’s Brown decision to end segregated schools. I was a cadet and young officer when the Army again acted to put down riots in the late 1960s. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were all correct in using military power to enforce civil rights and protect civilians and property. Similarly, President George H.W. Bush was right to use troops to end the riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King. Today, when politics and ideology seem to trump nearly all other considerations, support for ending riots and looting appears to require you first declare your political allegiance to the movement that is creating this grief.

I urge our elected and appointed leaders to resist the temptation to give in to the loudest, angriest elements of the citizenry. The evils of slavery, segregation, and racism constitute the original sin of America. The US Army, from the freedman and former slaves who fought on the side of the Union to the Buffalo Soldiers and the Nisei, have time and again showed that the brotherhood of soldiers is larger and more open-minded than any college campus. There is much to be proud of in our history. Erasing the ugly parts will do nothing to solve the challenges ahead of us as a military and as a country.

USMA graduates letter to the class of 2020

It was brought to my attention by a classmate that a letter, signed by almost 700 graduates of West Point, was sent to the class of 2020.  This article is a response to that letter.[i]

Interestingly, a number of graduates did not have the courage to reveal their names rather they took the moniker of “anonymous”.

The letter is critical of a number of issues related to the use of the military in recent events throughout the country.  Regarding that, it is my understanding to this point that only police and some National Guards have been used to suppress riots, looting and the general mayhem we have seen recorded that have followed peaceful protests.

There are those of us who wish that the military had been used to stop the damage in Minneapolis and other places—but they weren’t because the mayor and governor were weak kneed.

Before we start on this topic, lest there be any misunderstanding, I want to go on record about the killing of George Floyd, which allegedly has sparked the protests and some/much of the subsequent violence.  The use of force observed in the killing of Mr. Floyd recently was clearly tragic and unnecessary.  It has been rapidly taken to the authorities who have remanded the officer who killed Mr. Floyd and his associated officers for arraignment and subsequent trial for their actions.

George Floyd has been portrayed as a “good man”.   However, let us not forget that the aforementioned Mr Floyd had a long record of violence and criminality and died with fentanyl (86 ng/mL of “free morphine”) in his system, had recently ingested methamphetamine and only came to light to the authorities when he allegedly attempted to cash a counterfeit $20 bill.  This in no way justifies the treatment and the tragic manner in which he was killed.  Perhaps he had been trying to turn his life around as has been stated.

We have been endowed by our Creator with free will.  Sometimes we make poor choices but no one today wants to recognize that choices have consequences.

I would like to address just two of the highlights of this letter below.

One premise is that “Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests.  Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events,” 

“The oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is aspirational. We pledge service to no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant,” the group wrote, adding that they were “concerned that fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions are failing to uphold their oath of office and their commitment to Duty, Honor, Country.”

It would appear that the signers of the letter failed to read and understand a number of things.

First is the officer’s oath of allegiance which states:  I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Second is the Constitution Article III Section III of the United States which addresses Posse Comitatius.  It states, “Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.”

“The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both . . . shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it—(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law . . . . ”

Unfortunately, peaceful (legitimate) protests, which I think everyone believes are just, have had a tendency to turn violent.  It seems to me that the use of violence in protests which have turned into riots against legitimate authority, violence against the police, property owners and others is infringing upon others right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These events clearly deprive a class of people of their right to protection under the law.

The author(s) of the aforementioned letter further have perhaps failed to recognize that the both national guards and military forces have been used multiple times in the past, to include the recent past by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Do you feel as a citizen that it is your right to feel safe in your abode, your car or place of business?

If yes, who do you expect to protect your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness against riot, looting, mayhem physical assault and possible death?   If not the states, who cannot or will not protect people, then the United States government?

As inspirational as Duty, Honor, Country is, the oath taken by officers would appear very clear.   “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic“.   Are those who would cause destruction and mayhem an enemy?

So I am puzzled by their lack of understanding of the oath they took and the Constitution of the United States.  They were required to study it as cadets!

Is it the inability to read and understand the English language?  The failure of our educational system?  A failure of the values of West Point?  Or perhaps the unmitigated hatred of a president they cannot abide flamed by a media and press who have lost their sense of justice and integrity.

Maybe it is their disloyalty that the writers so passionately desire to attribute to others.  It should be said that if the writers had not targeted two members of the class of 1986—Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper—that what they wrote could be said about any group of graduates serving in any administration by those who did not like the policies of that administration.

In my opinion, the originators of this letter have taken Trump derangement/hate syndrome to an extreme and in so doing have sullied the reputation of West Point—shame on them!  Most likely the idea of the letter originated from a Biden staffer or a wanta be Biden staffer. The originator most likely is looking for a downstream payoff and does not worry about sullying the reputation of West Point.  Unfortunately he must have almost failed law as a cadet, as pointed out above.

I am sure that both the President of Association of Graduates and Superintendent of West Point believe that being a graduate of West Point is a sacred honor and the comradeship of fellow graduates is a most critical bond.  If they had their way this issue would go away and the signers return to the fold of graduates whose solemn duty is to defend the constitution.

Maybe the originator and signers should file Duty, Honor and Country off of their class rings if they choose to not repudiate the letter.

Contrary to the letter almost all graduates still support the constitution and the academy motto of “Duty, Honor, Country.”

[i] I am very grateful for the input of several West Point classmates whose thoughts have been incorporated into this response.

Trump’s Guidelines

As a follow-up to my article of yesterday on acceptable risk this article addresses the phases laid out by the President yesterday. He said his new guidelines “will allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach to reopening their individual states.”  This article does not support giving all decision making to the governors or basing all unlocking of the economy upon medical data.

Let me posit that the medical modeling that drove the shutdown was extremely inaccurate—it predicted 2.2 million deaths.  To depend upon further medical models entirely is therefore somewhat wanting.

The deference to state governors comes days after Trump claimed that his “authority is total” on the question of reopening the country. But the president also made clear that he wanted a quick return to normal life. The governors pushed back on his claim of authority.  His authority is not total as he claims, but it is much larger than probably the democrat governors want to understand.

The issue is not federalism as the governors used the concept to claim that the president’s authority in matters of state commerce is concerned.  What was not mentioned is the inter-state commerce clause of the constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the constitution states: “(The Congress shall have Power) To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

This article is one of the most litigated parts of the constitution.  It has been used to greatly expand the reach of the federal government into the activities of many business activities.  In today’s highly inter-related economy it applies to almost every business activity of any significance.  The Congress has created laws to limit everything from marijuana growth to civil rights and has justified such laws under the inter-state commerce clause of the constitution.  The President is charged with upholding the laws of the nation. In this role he has great power over the companies involved in interstate commerce.

Additionally the President’s role as commander in chief gives him authority over the military that might be located in different states and one would expect certain critical defense industries.

The President unfortunately in his three phases of recovery announced yesterday did not relate either his role as commander-in-chief or the presiding officer over interstate commerce to the phases.  The phases were all driven by medical data.

The President did say that: “A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution,” “To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy. Over the long haul, you can’t do one without the other.”

At first glance, the three-phase guidelines seem unlikely to alter the “new-normal” routine for many Americans.  He said his new guidelines “will allow governors to take a phased and deliberate approach to reopening their individual states.”

The reopening will be staggered and that states and counties would have to go through “gated criteria of 14 days of decreasing evidence of illness,”

  • “Phase one begins with all vulnerable individuals, including those with comorbidity continuing to shelter in place, and insuring that those that first go out in public are not those that are the most vulnerable to bad outcomes in this disease,” In order to move on to phase two, a state should demonstrate no evidence of a rebound in cases.
  • The phase two guidelines continue to recommend that citizens avoid gatherings of 50 people or more, as well as the sheltering of vulnerable individuals, but allow for the resumption of non-essential travel.
  • The phase three guidelines allow vulnerable individuals to resume limited public interactions, but advises that all citizens “minimize time spent in crowded environments.” Workplace restrictions would also be lifted in phase three, and gyms and bars can be reopened.

There is a key word above – counties.  This would suggest that counties could be treated by governors the same way that states are at the federal level.  In my example of yesterday this could allow Governor Kelly of Kansas to unlock the western counties of the state and allow them to progress to phase 3 almost immediately.

Applying the commander in chief and interstate commerce powers the President could also exempt certain activities and organizations from the control of a governor if it impeded the pursuit of national objectives.

In conclusion the Presidents 3 phases give him political cover from charges of being slow on opening the country’s economy back up.  The blame has been passed to the governors. Certain governors, as demonstrated by recent and future planned demonstrations, are bearing the brunt of their misguided, draconian limitations on their citizens.  One article I read today talked about an “American uprising.”

However the restart of the economy occurs it needs to be done in an expeditious manner.

Acceptable risk

On 24 March I wrote an article discussing whether the cure for the virus was worse than the virus itself.  It is now time to revisit the message of that article.  We see selected governors extending their blanket closing into May, at the minimum.  This is absurd except for the politics that underlies it.

Part of the thinking that underlies the extended shutdowns is that it would be terrible for there to be one death from the China virus on an individual’s watch after the lockdown is lifted, while there is no guilt associated with all of the deaths each year from the flu.  The media has created a psychological monster out of the China virus. This monster it is hoped will bring down the president.

The political/media game somehow made the China virus more dangerous than the annual flu.  At worst the numbers may end up being about the same and most likely the annual 60,000 deaths from the flu will exceed the China virus.  But of course the democrats need to remove Trump’s economic success.  The way to do that is to keep the country locked down.

The question then is when and how will the country get back to work?

In spite of all of the government stimulus money many small businesses may find it impossible to reopen:

  • Market has been usurped by a company that avoided the shutdown—it was essential
  • Employees have found work elsewhere or are not yet ready to go back to work because government unemployment benefits are too good to be true, but they are
  • Government regulations will be so restrictive so as to prevent a small restaurant, for example, to be profitable. (Table spacing an example.)

The handful of states that do not have sweeping lock down orders — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — counted fewer than 300 mortalities between them as of Wednesday afternoon, according to their websites, and roughly 11,000 cases. In these examples lockdowns were not necessary and yet infections did not explode. They each are governed by Republicans.

Continuing lockdowns may be undercut with the governors now having been acknowledged to have the authority to loosen their lock downs.  If demonstrations such as occurred in Michigan this week continue this attempt to paint the economy failure as Trump’s fault may fail.  Expect more bombastic press briefings in the White House. In short the governors could be blamed for local economic problems.  Having fought the White House for the power to unlock they may still try to shift the blame for economic problems onto Trump.

The other message from the left is that the President’s handling of the virus has been incompetent.  Of course Adam Schiif will attempt to make this message get traction, but the experts will most likely make his attempts to be shown to be empty.

In some states with Democrat governors it is likely that they are trying to get the attention of the Biden staff so as to be considered for vice-presidential candidacy.  This may backfire on want-to-be Vice President governors such as Kelly in Kansas and Whitmer in Michigan. Both of these governors have portions of their states where the lockdowns could be relaxed. (Similar to the 8 states noted above.)  Case in point.  Western Kansas hardly has any virus cases.  The same is true of the rural portions of most states, as noted above.

In the coming days we should expect to see recommendations on industries and geographic areas that can be unlocked early in the unlock process. In looking at the unlock process there will be multiple considerations in what / where to unlock.  The amount of infection in a geographic area will be critical.  Demand for the product of a small business (or any business) will also be a critical consideration. Certain industries where large groups gathered may be late in the unlock process.

The Washington Post reported that the White House draft plan gave four criteria for a state to reopen. According to the Post: a low number of infections, a monitoring system to detect new infections, a medical system that can accommodate a surge of new infections, and enough hospital beds to handle that surge.  These criteria are insufficient.  Consideration also needs to be taken to the considerations listed above.

As we watch the coming debate we need to keep the above thoughts in mind.  Politics will become more and more dominant as this goes forward.

The economy or the people? Or Is the cure worse than the virus?

 

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

The President also reiterated his argument that he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and to see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview. He added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

The President’s optimism of course is countered by all of the panic and anti-trump rhetoric of the media.  Have you heard the media report the praise for the actions of the president from unlikely leaders like the governors of California and New York?  Some of the closures are clearly the result of the panic created by the media.  The rest is truly to ease of contagion of the virus.

The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, is tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.

Trump’s thoughts about getting people back to work sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

For weeks now, millions of Americans have been practicing “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve” of increasing Chinese Coronavirus infections. Governors in California and New York have issued “stay at home orders” and closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to stem the growth of the illness. Other states have made similar or more limited declarations or are considering them.  Most states have ended the school year and are trying some form of remote education.  This would be more practical if every school child had a computer and every home had the internet.  (This will be the subject of a whole new article as I learn from the experience of our grandchildren.

While more than 40,000 Americans currently are infected with Chinese Coronavirus, hundreds of millions of others are suffering from the outbreak’s related effects. The U.S. economy is in shambles. The stock market has seen catastrophic losses. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of workers have been sent home. Thousands have been laid off. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered, and many — especially small ones — may not re-open.

The negative financial impact of the shutdown/quarantine strategy gets worse every day. But are these widespread, but hopefully short-term, economic losses necessary? Will they avert a long-term economic crisis that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands?

As we come full circle from the Rose Garden’s hope of today about opening the country by Easter to the risk of opening the government prematurely maybe there is a compromise solution.

Some places like Wyoming and many of the other mid-western states have few cases of the virus.  Many locales in even New York have few cases.  Such an analysis of the country suggests that there are large pockets of minimal contamination.  Also we know that the vulnerable population groups are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.  Younger Americans my get the virus but the effects are minimal.  This suggests another way to dice who can go back to work—non-threatened folks.

It is only smart to continue to limit large gatherings but many other social interactions can be resumed in selected locales.

To me the biggest threat while living is Kansas is flying on commercial aircraft.  The airlines should use some of their stimulus money to devise methods of purifying the air inside their planes while they are in flight. 

Of course travel is one of the biggest threats to the selective isolation that I have suggested (age and locale) as the virus can be brought from one of the isolated pockets to a relatively clear zone.

As the country and its leadership struggle with the dilemma pointed out here it would be terribly helpful if the media could stop the hate Trump rhetoric and substitute a support for America theme—why not try telling folks what is good? Or be truly complete in its reporting—“New York City is out of certain needed items because the administration forgot to order them and the government has not been able to fill all of its needs yet.” “Areas critically impacted are in New York, where they did not cancel Lunar New year celebrations.” Complete and accurate reporting and positive stories about women in Kansas making facemasks for a local hospital would also be nice to hear.

I ask my readers to consider the closure of the society and the risks from that versus the closure of the economy and the much longer and possibly worse impact from that.  What is worse—some deaths from the virus or a depression?

Extension of the New START Treaty?

A senior US State Department official told a seminar in London on 11 February that there remains time for Russia and the United States to work through processes for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is due to expire in February 2021.  There are several extension possibilities in the treaty.

Rumors are that John Bolton wanted to try and lure China into a tri-lateral nuclear control agreement.  There are no rumors to date on what the president or his new National Security Adviser might be thinking.  I know from personal experience that time is actually short to decide to try for a treaty extension and then negotiate it.  Let alone add in the Chinese.  There has not been any evidence of the agencies—State, Defense, Energy, or Intelligence—manning up for such an effort.

The New START Treaty is the only strategic nuclear arms control agreement still existing between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was negotiated by the Obama administration and approved by the Senate. It limits both sides to no more than 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. Further, it provides the United States with access to and information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal and vice versa. Both signatories are reportedly fully complying with the agreement, as verified by the U.S. intelligence community.  The new nuclear capable missiles deployed by the Russians into Eastern Europe are not covered by the treaty.

The agreement entered into force in 2011 and will expire on February 5, 2021. However the agreement can be extended by executive agreement for up to five years, a step that would not require further Congressional approval. Both the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. intelligence community allegedly support such an extension. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly and unconditionally offered to extend the agreement.

The Trump administration has been in office more than three years and has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty. It is easy to see the administration holding such a negotiation as a carrot for after the election.  This might attract more moderates and some Democrats to support Trump.  Conversely new allegations of the Russians meddling in the election and supporting Trump could dissuade the administration from offering such a negotiation lest it appear soft on the Russians.

It is in this context that one should consider any reports of interest by the US in negotiating a new broader multilateral strategic arms control agreement either independently or with both Russia and China. Some American military and security officials are reported to be eager to expand strategic conversations with Russia to protect American interests, and also right to want new and expanded strategic conversations with China, whose actions and capabilities pose growing military and security challenges to American interests in East Asia. Those that are eager feel that discussions are urgently needed to prevent conflicts and diffuse unnecessary tensions in volatile areas and develop new rules for our growing competition with these states.

Before going any further one must determine who the people are that are reported to be eager for such negotiations.  To carry the day in the Trump administration they must be completely without any swamp smell.

What are the arguments for such an extension of the existing agreement and then its expansion into a tri-lateral agreement? It is well known that Russia is developing new strategic nuclear systems, some of which would be covered under the New START if it remains intact. Allowing the agreement to expire or trying to expand it in an unrealistic way and in an unrealistic time frame means Russia would be free after 2021 to develop as many of these new systems as it chooses without any constraint or rights of American access. Of course the US would have the same rights, but in a deficit cutting world there might be strong voices to avoid another nuclear arms race.

There is also nothing that prevents the Trump administration from extending the current agreement and at the same time beginning negotiations on new ones with Russia, China, or both.

As we go forward we will keep an eye on this area as there is the potential for much to happen..

Vindman follow-up

The news reports today that additional 70 staffers have been reassigned away from the NSC staff.  The reported goal is to do two things:

  1. Reduce the NSC staff to about 100 people–the same size as it was during George H W Bush’s conduct of the Gulf War.
  2. Eliminate the Obama holdovers–potential dwellers of the swamp

So much as the Democrats want to paint LTC Vindman as a hero,the reality is that his reassignment was just the leading edge of the NSC restructuring.  The news is reporting that Vindman is on the list for attending the Army War College is this coming August.  This surprises me!  Attendance at the War College is usually reserved for former battalion commanders and other LTCs that are upwardly mobile.  As pointed out, Vindman’s career, based upon reported adverse reports, should be on hold.  More to follow.

Will we be receiving notification of similar housecleaning throughout the rest of the bureaucracy?

War power limitations on the president—putting the recent House resolution in perspective

The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 by both Houses of Congress, overriding the veto of President Nixon. It was passed to reassert Congressional authority over the decision to send American troops to war.  After President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without Congress’s consent, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, intended to limit the president’s authority to conduct war.

At the time, President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that the measure would define presidential war powers “in ways which would strictly limit his constitutional authority.” Nonetheless, a two-thirds majority in each congressional chamber overrode the veto.

The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a congressional authorization for use of military force or a declaration of war by the United States.

There have been several instances when the President has not notified Congress within the required 48 hours.  In the case of the attack on General Soleimani the Trump administration made such a notification.  However it would be easy to argue that Congress has already authorized military activities in Iraq and therefore that such a notification was not required.

Yesterday Congressional Democrats, seemed  blissfully unaware of then-President Barack Obama’s rather expansive interpretation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 during his strategically disastrous 2011 operation to oust Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, suddenly seemed to care an awful lot about constitutional norms and separation of powers principles. Intellectual hypocrisy again.

Specifically, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives debated whether to Congressionally impose War Powers Resolution limitations upon President Trump’s unilateral ability to ratchet up militancy actions with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In their crusade to hamstring the president’s conduct of his foreign policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, House Democrats even found several libertarian-leaning Republican allies.

In my opinion this exercise was misguided, because the War Powers Resolution is, and always has been, unconstitutional.  It has never been challenged in the courts.  This most recent effort was really an attempt by the Democrats to embarrass the president.

The Constitution divides foreign affairs powers between the legislative and executive branches. Among other enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, Congress has the ability to “declare War,” “raise and support Armies,” “provide and maintain a Navy,” “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces,” “provide for calling forth the Militia,” and “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia.”

On the other hand, Article II of the Constitution provides that “[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” The very first clause of Article II also vests the president with “[t]he executive Power” — meaning a “residual” foreign affairs power that encompasses all those powers not expressly delegated to Congress in Article I, Section 8.

Many legal scholars have conducted a careful, line-by-line overview of Congress’s enumerated powers and have concluded that the constitution does not provide a legislative means that could feasibly justify the War Powers Resolution. The most likely candidate is the Declare War Clause, but that provision happens to be woefully misunderstood by many lawyers and politicians across the ideological spectrum.

Congress can intervene to halt a president if it views a reckless warmonger is using the manifold tools it has at its disposal:

  • Decreasing the size of the Pentagon’s budget by going line item-by-line item and removing various offensive-oriented materiel from the Department of Defense’s arsenal, or using its more general power of the purse to defund a war effort in its entirety
    • This was what eventually happened in the Vietnam War case.

This interpretation of the Declare War Clause should not be nearly as controversial as it is. At the 1787 constitutional convention, the Framers actually conscientiously substituted out “make War” with “declare War.” In so doing, James Madison explained that it was imperative to leave to the president the “power to repel sudden attacks.” This ought to make a great deal of sense; as Alexander Hamilton would explain only six months after the constitutional convention in The Federalist No. 70, “[d]ecision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number.”

Finally, in Article I, Section 10, the Constitution precludes a state from “engag[ing] in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” The Framers were therefore aware of multiple verbs — “make” and “engage” — that could have clearly conveyed the meaning of an initiation of hostilities. But they didn’t use those words, and they didn’t use them for a reason. The Framers understood that there was great merit to leaving decisions such as the commencement of hostilities to one man, and not to a fractious Congress.

Congress already has a number of tools at its disposal to push back against a crusading commander-in-chief. As Andrew McCarthy wrote this week at Fox News, “No statute is needed to provide Congress with the power to frustrate unauthorized presidential war-making. The Constitution empowers the legislature to do so by simply refusing to appropriate funds for military action.” But the Declare War Clause means something fundamentally different than what many believe it does.

No president, to date, has abided by the war powers act!  Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Libya being cases in point. They have avoided a legal show down by advising Congress after the fact of military action.  President Obama in 2016 wrote: “I am providing this supplemental consolidated report, prepared by my Administration and consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148), as part of my efforts to keep the Congress informed about deployments of U.S. Armed Forces equipped for combat.”  The term “consistent with” has been used by multiple presidents.  They were saying that their notification was not “as required” by the resolution, but “consistent with” it..  This wording was used to avoid a legal challenge to the requirements for notification of Congress for fear of the president losing to a liberal judiciary and thus a resulting limitation on presidential power.

The debate over the war powers of the Congress versus the President will continue and in most cases it will be highlighted when a house of Congress is controlled by a political party that does not control the White House.  This is what we have just observed.

The strategic question is highlighted by the preemptive attack versus defensive reaction.  If the War Powers goal of the House Democrats was to take away the president’s ability to preempt an Iranian attack it is both a strategic mistake and inconsistent with the war powers resolution.  This is precisely what the Democrats sought: The resolution “requires the president to consult with Congress in every possible instanced before introducing United States Armed Forces in hostilities.” As a perceived new limitation on the ability of the president to use the military to protect US interests it would be tantamount to strategic surrender to the Iranians by denying the president multiple strategic options.  This action thus must surely be nothing more than the Democrats expressing their angst against a successful presidential action.

The debate over war powers will most likely continue and will most likely never been  finalized because the extreme answers available are strategic mistakes and such is realized by most clear thinking personnel.

Draining the swamp

The swamp is not a new phenomenon—it is just a new name for a reality that started in the Roosevelt administration.  When government began growing at a rapid rate political appointees hired civil servants who shared their vision of what a new policy to be implemented would bring.  This large number of oriented civil service grew over time.

Throughout the years as political leaders changed they tried to change the civil service as new positions were created and older bureaucrats retired.  I can remember during the Nixon administration a long debate about how to neutralize Kennedy/Johnson liberal bureaucrats. During the Reagan administration a bureaucrat who opposed his arms control policy was given a closet sized office with no phone or computer.  He hung on until Clinton became president and sought to get even with policy prescriptions during the Clinton years.

This hangover of bureaucrats thus is not a new thing.  What is new is how emboldened some of these bureaucrats have become.  NSC staffers personally talking with Presidents of foreign countries and advising them how to “deal” with President Trump.  Such bureaucrats are coming out of the woodwork in their attempt to impeach President Trump.  These hangovers from the Obama years are risking much—pensions and promotions.  This suggests that someone outside of government is offering them a safety net—employment, etc.  Some have gone to CNN and MSNBC, but others are not in poverty as the swamp supporters step up to their aid.

Conversely, one hears little of such behavior in the United Kingdom.  The UK is known for its politically neutral civil servants who serve their political masters devotedly.  The critical difference is one of political culture.  Do US political appointees demand more from civil service appointees than they should?  Does advancement depend upon political orientation?

I have not performed a statistical analysis but given the “drain the swamp” orientation of President Trump one can believe that the administration is finally getting around to “liberal” bureaucrats.  Their cries for support have not been heard by the liberal press as it focuses on impeachment.

Some months ago I argued that behind the smoke screen of Trump’s tweets and other statements the transformation of government was occurring. This related to policy but probably also should be applied to the realignment of civil servants.

The Intelligence Community seems to be a special case.  In observing the activities of members of this group of self-declared elites I am reminded of the Pakistani Intelligence Service (IIS).  The IIS is the power behind the throne and the country.  It has its tentacles throughout Pakistan and has changed the political leadership several times.  Is this the power that the US intelligence community seeks?

What do you think?

Media Excursion

The announcement that the US would re-position some of its 1000 troops in Syria to avoid their being engaged by Turkish soldiers if they invade has created another firestorm in the media.

Now that the Turks have started their attack there are numerous reports flying around:

  • Civilian targets are being attacked
  • The Kurds have requested that the US impose and enforce a “no fly zone.”
  • The Senate is considering severe sanctions against Turkey

The media and even some Republicans fear is that Kurdish fighters may be attacked by Turkish armed forces moving into north-eastern Syria.  In essence the media and other pundits are saying that the lives of US soldiers should remain at risk in order to protect the Kurds.

Hidden in all of this punditry are several hard facts:

  • The Kurds, with US support are holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners. An attack on the Kurds would possibly result in their freedom.
  • There are only about 50 Special Forces that are being tactically relocated.
  • The US has always wanted the US presence in Syria to be a short term operation
  • Now that the Turks have invaded their stated goal is to create a free zone in Syria so that many of the refugees that are in Turkey can be relocated to this safe zone
  • There is no indication that the Russians in Syria will get caught up in engaging the Turks—if that should happen it could trip the NATO obligations of other states to come to the assistance of an attacked ally. There are even reports that the Russians were trying to negotiate some form of cease fire.

What I seem to have missed in the reporting is why the Turks chose to attack into Syria now.  Probably missed because there are so many possible explanations:

  • Expansion of Turkey’s geographic area of control
  • Resettlement of Syrian refugees
  • Further destabilizing Assad of Syria
  • Weakening/destroying the Kurds

None of these explain the current timing.  Could the real reason be because Erdogan is in trouble politically?  The above objectives could all be valid but the domestic political situation is responsible for the present timing.

If the Turks don’t attack the Kurds and their US Special Forces advisors there will be no problem.  The US will have reduced its footprint in Syria and be on the way out, leaving the resolution of the conflict to regional actors with the Kurds secure in an enclave away  from the Turkish border.

So when you cut everything away the media frenzy is about US credibility in supporting allies in the future.  This assumes that the Kurds are being deserted by their Special Forces advisor / assistants and especially that their logistical support and air support will be shut off.  It is difficult to see that happening if for no other reason than the 11,000 ISIS prisoners that they hold.

In a perfect world the Kurds and Turks could coexist and the Syrian refugees could be relocated from Turkey into this safe zone.  Such a coexistence would be a very fragile one.

Strategically, there is still something missing from the above discussion.  We will watch the situation and update it as appropriate in the future.

We’ll see what happens.

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