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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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The Disastrous Myth of Airpower Victory

Airpower

President Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS depends crucially on precision bombing by drones and airplanes. The heavy lifting on the ground is supposed to be accomplished by our "allies" in Iraq and the Syrian opposition, but as any reader of the news knows, these allies are, to put it charitably, unreliable and prone to panic and/or treachery. So, despite Obama’s rhetoric, our new war against ISIS will be an air power war.

The key ideas in Obama's bombing strategy will be the identification and killing of ISIS leadership targets and the disruption/destruction of coherent ISIS ground operations with precision weapons. That target identification task is likely to be done by small numbers of US forces working with our supposed allies. This plan is a prescription for disaster.

The seductive idea of victory through airpower alone is not a new one, and Obama has fallen for a modern improv of an old score — no doubt, in part, for domestic political reasons. The background music was conceived and advocated in the 1930s by a small group of officers in the Army Air Corps based in the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.
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'Think Tank-Gate': Corruption Is the Price of Empire

NYT Brookings

A New York Times investigation into the influence of foreign money on American thinktanks is causing a Twitter-storm as I write this, and with good reason. In one particularly egregious example, the report details an explicit agreement, signed by the principals, between the Center for Global Development (CGD) and the government of Norway for the former to propagandize on behalf of doubling a foreign aid program to Norway in exchange for a $5 million donation. Aside from the brazen corruption of the CGD/Norway relationship, the report focuses on three other Washington DC biggies: the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, all of which receive substantial chunks of cash from rich overseas donors, primarily from the Middle East, Europe, and the Far East. For example, the Times notes:

"The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world."

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Desperate Drug War Beneficiaries Spread Marijuana Legalization Disinformation

Marijuana Field

While local and state governments continue moving forward with reducing and eliminating restrictions and penalties regarding marijuana, drug war beneficiaries are desperately responding by spreading disinformation. One such effort is the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Traffic Area August report “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact.”

The report purports to be a balanced analysis of the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado. In fact, the report is over 150 pages of deceptive pro-drug war propaganda.

One may wonder how much time and money the HIDTA spent on researching, writing, and producing the professional appearing report. Whatever the cost, the HIDTA people must figure it is a good investment of other people’s money.

While the Rocky Mountain HIDTA and its private and government allies spent hundreds or thousands of hours creating the agitprop, drug war writer Jacob Sullum had no trouble promptly rebutting a good portion of the report’s conclusions and exposing some of the rhetorical trickery that made the report particularly deceptive. Nonetheless, singers of prohibition praise from Cully Stimson of the Heritage Foundation to DARE enthusiastically promoted bite-size packets of the report’s disinformation.
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Iraq Has WMDs and Russia Has Invaded!

Iraq WMD

How did they imagine they’d get away with it, claiming that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and even nuclear weapons?

Defectors had made clear the chemical and biological weapons (some of them provided by the United States) had been destroyed. Inspectors had searched almost every inch of Iraq and said they’d get to the last few inches if given a few more days. Iraq was screaming that it had no such weapons. Numerous nations around the world were agreeing with Iraq. Colin Powell’s own staff warned him that his claims would not be deemed plausible.

And yet, they got away with it to such an extent that most well-intentioned people in the United States to this day maintain that nobody can possibly be sure that Bush, Cheney, et alia, knew their statements were false when they made them.
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The State’s Worst Atrocity

WWI Recruit Poster

“The lamps are going out all over Europe,” Sir Edward Grey famously said on the eve of World War I. “We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” 

It was 100 years ago this week that Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, setting in motion the unspeakable calamity that contemporaries dubbed the Great War. Well in excess of 10 million people perished, and by some estimates, many more. 

Numbers, even staggering ones like this, can scarcely convey the depth and breadth of the destruction. The war was an ongoing slaughter of devastating proportions. Tens of thousands perished in campaigns that moved the front just a matter of yards. It was World War I that gave us the term “basket case,” by which was meant a quadruple amputee. Other now-familiar tools of warfare came into common use: the machine gun, the tank, even poison gas. Rarely has the State’s machinery of senseless destruction been on more macabre display. 

The scholarly pendulum has swung back in the direction of German atrocities having indeed been committed in Belgium, though perhaps not quite as gruesome as the tales of babies being passed from bayonet to bayonet that were disseminated to Americans early in the war. In turn, a vastly larger number of Germans, with estimates as high as 750,000, died as a result of the British hunger blockade that violated longstanding norms of international conduct, even during wartime.
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Inside the Strange Mind of NATO's Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Fogh Rasmussen2

This week, I attended a talk here in San Francisco by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, sponsored jointly by The World Affairs Council and The Commonwealth Club.

I have never heard remarks before quite like those made by Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark.

In nearly perfect English, he called for the expanded role for NATO pretty much across the world. He said there was an "arc of crisis" around the world, from north and central Africa to Iraq and Syria. From the Baltics to the Black Sea and on the peninsula of Korea.

He stated that the answer to this global crisis was that NATO needed more ships, planes and troops on the ground. He called for all NATO countries to expand defense spending to two percent of their GDPs and said that the only NATO countries that currently spend above this level are the US, the UK, Greece and Estonia. He justified NATO, which was, of course, formed as a North Atlantic alliance, expansion into activities into the Pacific by pointing out that the NATO member, the US, has a Pacific coast line and that other NATO members have territories in the Pacific.
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Fox News and Terrorist Propaganda

Pirro

Comedian and movie star Russell Brand recently posted a video in which he played a segment by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro about the rise in Iraq of the terrorist group ISIS, and periodically interrupted the segment to respond to her remarks.

Pirro’s segment was a fear-mongering, wardrum-beating diatribe. Emphasizing each instance of the word “bomb” with a finger jab, she boomed:
“My resolution? Air strikes. Bomb them! Bomb them… Keep bombing them. Bomb then again and again!”
When she later referred to ISIS as a “fanatical terrorist organization,” Brand turned the accusation back on Pirro and Fox News, which he said is itself “a fanatical terrorist-propagandist organization,” more dangerous than even ISIS.
“That — I’m not being sensational — that is more dangerous than ISIS. That’s attitude. That’s far-reaching. That’s affecting millions and millions of people.”
Pundits like Pirro do play a big role in whipping up a war frenzy in portions of the public.
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Ground Hog Day in the Drug War

Groundhog

A news article this week entitled “South Laredo Trafficking Group Indicted” caught my attention. That’s because Laredo is my hometown. I spent 26 years there, including 8 years practicing law, most of which was in partnership with my father.

That newspaper article is about the drug war. It reports that an indictment was returned against 24 Laredoans for violations of federal drug laws. The indictment charges the defendants with distribution of cocaine, crack, and marijuana in the Laredo area.

As I read the article, I got the distinct impression that I was living “Ground Hog Day,” because this type of article was standard fare in Laredo when I was in high school in the late 1960s and then also when I returned to Laredo to practice law in 1975.

In fact, my very first trial, right out of law school, was a federal drug case in U.S. District Court in Laredo. Since the defendant could not afford a lawyer, the federal judge appointed me to represent him. My client was claiming he was innocent and went to trial. The jury acquitted him.

When I was in high school, my father served as U.S. magistrate. The line of people brought before him on federal drug charges (including Timothy Leary) always seemed to me to be endless. Part of the reason for this, my father told me, was relayed to him by the federal judge, who suspected that federal agents at the international bridge were planting drugs on long-haired hippies returning from Mexico. It was my first exposure to the corrupting nature of the drug war.
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Obama: Stop The Sanctimonious Kidstuff; Let Europe Fund Its Own Security

Pm500

The EU has a GDP of $17 trillion—-a figure approximately 9X that of Russia. If there is any one over there who actually believes that Putin is about to mobilize his troops on a reverse of Hitler’s march through the Ukraine and back into central Europe, let them make their case and take up a collection from the purportedly threatened states.

Quite obviously no one is making that case in Berlin, Brussels or any other significant European capital—for the simple reason that such a scenario is purely a figment of the Washington War Party’s imagination. So what we actually have is an American president on a photo op tour of Europe being importuned by local dignitaries for more Washington largesse. And the result will be more kidstuff maneuvers that are laughable in there own terms, but still another irritant in America’s utterly unnecessary confrontation with Russia.

In that regard, we have already witnessed the President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, making this hideous remark as he stood with Obama alongside F-16s employed in joint training exercises between the two nations:
Mr. Komorowski said the U.S. and Poland are a “brotherhood in arms.”
Well, not at all. We are actually two nations at peace, and Poland is a fortunate nation that has been born again solely because of the sacrifices American taxpayers made for 50 years to first defeat its German occupiers and then to outlast its Soviet overlords.
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