It seems that the Democrats in Congress learned the wrong lessons from the debacle in Vietnam. While they do control spending, it is the President that decides the course of a war. And so it is with Iraq, something they need to be reminded about.
To understand why the Founders put war powers in the hands of the Presidency, look no further than the current spectacle in Congress on Iraq. What we are witnessing is a Federalist Papers illustration of criticism and micromanagement without responsibility.
Consider the resolution pushed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday by Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel. Both men voted for the Iraq War. But with that war proving to be more difficult than they thought, they now want to put themselves on record as opposing any further attempts to win it.
All of this also applies to the many Congressional efforts to set "benchmarks" or otherwise micromanage the battlefield. Hillary Rodham Clinton says she is "cursed with the responsibility gene" that makes her unwilling to cut off funds, but instead she proposes to set a cap on U.S. troops in the theater. So while General Petraeus says he needs more troops to fulfill his mission, General Clinton says he doesn't. Which battlefield commander do you trust?
In addition to being feckless, all of this is unconstitutional. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has the sole Constitutional authority to manage the war effort. Congress has two explicit war powers: It has the power to declare war, which in the case of Iraq it essentially did with its resolution of 2003. It also has the power to appropriate funds.
There is a long and unsettled debate over whether Congress can decide to defund specific military operations once it has created a standing Army. We lean toward those who believe it cannot, but the Founders surely didn't imagine that Congress could start dictating when and where the 101st Airborne could be deployed once a war is under way.
And that is the problem. It seems that some in Congress believe they should be running the war, a leftover ghost of the Vietnam era. One of the problems with that is that they rarely have all of the information that the White House and the Pentagon have. Also, things bet confused and chaotic when all of a sudden you have 535 commanders to answer to rather than one. It is the perfect way to lose and otherwise winnable war. But this seems to bother the members of Congress not at all.
This leads to the second problem, the defeatist talk among many in government, particularly those with special interest in bringing down the present administration. First and foremost in this group are those in the State Department. They seem to think that only they can solve the worlds problems if they can just talk enough. But sometimes talk fails and the only way to solve a dire threat to the US is to take military action.
And that leads us to another group making an effort to make us defeat ourselves. I call them the Everything-Is-America's-Fault whiners. According to these folks, every evil or perceived evil in the world is our fault, therefore it is only fitting that we give up or lose. The problem with the whiners is that many of our enemies are the epitome of evil, doing far worse than what many of these Everything-Is-America's-Fault whiners can possibly imagine. It isn't our fault that they are that way, but the fault of their society and their leaders.
If this group succeeds in convincing us that we've lost and we pull out of Iraq, whose fault will it be for the millions of deaths that follow? This time it will be our fault because we abandoned the Iraqi people and the rest of the people in the Middle East at their greatest time of need, just as we abandoned the South Vietnamese in the early 70's. From that point on we will never be trusted again. But that's what the whiners want. The feel we don't deserve to be trusted. But what is really true is that it is they who aren't to be trusted. They show their moral cowardice, knowing ahead of time that they will abandon us or our allies at the slightest provocation or lame reason.
As a political strategy, unremitting opposition has worked. Approval for the president and the war is low. The GOP lost sight of its ideological lodestars and so control of Congress. But the U.S. still occupies a unique position of power in the world, and we are putting that status at risk by playing politics without a net.
On the "Charlie Rose Show" this month, former Army vice chief of staff Gen. Jack Keane, who supports the counterinsurgency plan being undertaken by Gen. David Petraeus, said in exasperation: "My God, this is the United States. We are the world's No. 1 superpower. This isn't about arrogance. This is about capability and applying ourselves to a problem that is at its essence a human problem."
But the whiners and the government wonks see it as arrogance on our part. And they won't stop until they make us see it, too, even if it isn't really there.