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Ivan Eland

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Presidential War is Unconstitutional

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The Obama administration has decided to stretch the 15-year old congressional authorization for war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, or those harboring them, to include an illegal war against a group in Somalia—al-Shabab—that wasn’t even in existence at the time of the attacks in 2001.

In fact, as with many of its Islamist terrorist opponents worldwide—including the original al Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11 that arose from U.S. arming of Mujahideen guerrillas against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and al Qaeda in Iraq, which arose to combat the U.S. invasion there and morphed into ISIS—the United States inadvertently helped create al-Shabab in the first place. Al-Shabab did not arise until after 2007, long after 9/11, when the U.S. sponsored an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to wrest control of the country from a milder Islamist council. The more virulent al-Shabab rose to attempt to repel this foreign invasion.
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US Should Stop Supporting Likely Saudi War Crimes

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The United Nations top official on human rights recently told the U.N. Security Council that the US-supported, Saudi Arabian-led coalition of Sunni nations fighting Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen bore a disproportionate responsibility for attacks on civilians. Since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed and dozens of hospitals and schools have been attacked, leading the United Nations to warn of violations of international law.

The problem is that the United States is supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes by providing intelligence for targeting and also by refueling coalition’s war planes, thus extending the range of their bombing. Domestically, Saudi Arabia has a horrendous record on human rights that it is exporting to Yemen via bombing civilians there. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein exacerbated the Sunni-Shi’ite division throughout the Islamic world, and the war in Yemen is actually a joust for influence in the Persian Gulf between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are bitter regional rivals. 

Saudi Arabia does have substantial interests at stake in Yemen, which borders the autocratic kingdom, but the United States does not and should cease providing weapons and the aforementioned support, which is tainting the US with support for a country that very well may be committing war crimes.
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A Second Even More Unjustifiable Episode of Government Collection of Phone Records

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In the rush to sensationalize the Paris terrorist attacks and minimize all other news (for example, even more horrendous terrorist attacks in Nigeria), the American media has conveniently overlooked one major ill effect of the public hysteria it is helping to foment.

In a mini-redux of what happened subsequent to the 9/11 attacks, the American public, by confusing what's on TV with reality, is demonstrating what experts call "probability neglect." This phenomenon entails people excessively worrying about a rare event -- for example, a terrorist attack -- but being much less perturbed about much more common ways of dying by eating unhealthy foods, not exercising, smoking, failing to wear a seat belt, etc.

This excessive public fear allows the US government to run wild outside the Constitution and erode the civil liberties that make the United States unique, in the name of saving the populace from "terror" -- for example, unconstitutional indefinite jailing without charge or trial, the creation of kangaroo military tribunals as a substitute for civilian courts, illegally suspending people's right to challenge their detention, torture that violated  US and international law, and warrantless surveillance under the Patriot Act and even by violating existing law.
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Presidents and the War Power

Bombs Over Libya

President Barack Obama's claim that he doesn't need congressional authorization for his current war in Iraq and Syria is troubling. The country's founders would pass out upon hearing his claim that the post-9/11 congressional approval of force in 2001 against the perpetrators of those attacks and their abettors and the congressional resolution approving George W. Bush's invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 2003 give him the current authority for a very different war against very different people. However, Obama is not the first president to believe that he has the rather imperial authority for war by executive fiat.

Up until 1950, for major conflicts, presidents followed the nation's founders' intent in the U.S. Constitution to obtain a declaration of war from Congress. For the Korean War, however, Harry Truman, really the first imperial president, decided that this vital constitutional requirement was optional. Unfortunately, as I note in my new book -- Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty -- once a bad precedent is set, meaning that the chief executive gets away with an unconstitutional act, future presidents will cite it in carrying out their own questionable actions.

Over American history, that process has thus resulted in an expansion of presidential power much past what the founders had envisioned when they wrote their constitutional blueprint. Thinking of the powerful European monarchs of the day, who took their countries to war on a whim and let the costs in blood and treasure fall to their unfortunate citizens, the founders wanted an executive with severely restricted powers.
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