Opinion: Return war power to Congress


By Cal Thomas

On Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship USS Missouri at the end of ceremonies marking the unconditional surrender of Japan and the formal end of World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke for a world weary of war and hoping for peace: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.”

That prayer was not answered as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and a host of regional and tribal conflicts have preserved war, not peace, as the means by which too many attempt to settle their differences.

Cal Thomas

With U.S. combat operations in Iraq effectively over and Afghanistan in the process of winding down (for us, if not for the resilient enemy) there will be little rest between wars as Iran now appears to be the next target.

Politicians start wars, generals plan strategy to wage them and soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen (not to mention civilians) die in them. Since the beginning of the human race, people have sought ways to prevent wars, but every attempt at bringing lasting, or even short-term peace, has failed.

At the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., there are some who are now asking the hard questions about America’s role in warfare. Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times wrote about it in a story with the headline, “West Point Asks if a War Doctrine Was Worth It.”

The discussion, even debate, at West Point is first about the effectiveness of counterinsurgency in places like Afghanistan. Col. Gian P. Gentile, director of West Point’s military history program, is quoted as saying that counterinsurgency could work in Afghanistan if the United States makes a multi-decade commitment: “I’m talking 70, 80, 90 years,” he said. With many countries, including France, pulling out of Afghanistan (in France’s case earlier than previously expected due to orders from the country’s new president) and with shattered economies in need of rebuilding, including our own, this leads to a larger question: Can America afford to virtually “go it alone” in defense of the liberty of others who are not willing, or able, to bear the burden and pay the price for their own freedom?

I’m not sure there is a satisfactory answer to the question but it is a question that needs to be debated since we always seem to be the ones who pay the highest price. “Is it worth it?” How will we measure worthiness? These are questions at the heart of the debate.

Former President George W. Bush said, “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” But we are already fighting them here as demonstrated by Sept. 11, 2001, the Fort Hood shootings and numerous other successful and unsuccessful attacks.

Somewhere between “come home, America,” which would lead to isolationism and intervention in every conflict there is a pragmatic approach to war that America should consider. This ought to be an issue in the upcoming election, but it won’t be unless journalists ask the right questions and demand answers from those who have, or are seeking, the power to start or join wars and send our sons and daughters to fight and perhaps die in them.

Perhaps a return to the constitutional principle that only Congress has the power to declare war would help. That is what Rep. Ron Paul argued for during the presidential primary. He raised an important issue, one that should be discussed now, before the next war starts and American leaders decide another generation of young people should fight it.

Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America”.


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Comments (3)
  1. biggerpicture says - Posted: June 8, 2012

    “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always.”

    Gen. Douglas MacArthur and author of this piece Cal Thomas both make the insidious correlation that god (if one existed) would be somehow part of the equation as it pertains to man’s compunction to destroy those that differ from themselves (more often in the name of a god than any other reason!).

  2. Citizen Kane says - Posted: June 8, 2012

    well – yes, the connection to god for either peace or war is rather ironic? Guess we still havent figured out how to reconcile the ancient Greek and more enlightened view of gods as loving….but the point in the article that we need to submit to the constitutional direction that only acts of Congress can legitimatley commit us to war is one in which I wish more folks took seriously. We have done the same things with war that we have done with torture – redifined it to avoid checks and balances. I would say bombing the crap out of Iraq and Afganistan was certainly a war! There was a rationale for not doing this in Vietnam – that it would envoke treaty obligations and escalate the conflict to include direct fighting between the US, China, and Russia. But it was the start of the slippery slope. There was no rationale for it in either Iraq or Afganistan (not to mention Grenada and a few other interventions)

    Ironically this wasnt always (and isnt always still) a conservative/liberal issue – as folks like Ron Paul demonstrate. One of the more forceful arguements about this was made by Sen Byrd from West Virginia in the run up to the Gulf War. Unfortunately it’s been a slipepry slope that presidents from both parties have fully embraced – the founding fathers were in fact geniuses – they understood human nature and they knew power corrupts, and they didnt even trust themselves. They also knew that it is harder (though not impossible) to compromise several hundred men than a handful – which is why we have a Congress and a Senate (that represent slightly different interest) and a third branch of the government that checks the will of both the president and congress. But after 225 years folks have figured out how to play the system and it us the voters that have been the accomplices that have made this possible.

  3. dumbfounded says - Posted: June 8, 2012

    Interesting Opinion piece. The only ones who have to return war powers to Congress is Congress. They have abdicated their responsibilities to presidents for over 60 years due to political cowardice. By never declaring war, they can blame presidents for whatever happens and/or blame presidents for not taking action. The Declaration of War is their responsibility, in accordance with the Constitution.