War without end anywhere
by Barry Sheppard
source- Socialist Alternative, Australia
The Obama administration asserts that he and all future presidents have the power to wage endless war anywhere in the world, without permission or hindrance from Congress. This claim is a reiteration of the position taken by the Bush administration, which was most vociferously enunciated by Bush’s vice-president, Dick Cheney. It is another example of the seamless transition from Bush to Obama in foreign affairs.
The assertion came out on 16 May in a Senate hearing revisiting the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) enacted by Congress days after the attacks of 11 September 2001. Only one senator, Angus King, an independent from Maine, raised any concern. “This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I’ve been to since I’ve been [in the Senate]”, King said. “You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today.”
One could think that would at least deserve some major coverage in the capitalist press. But where it was mentioned, it was buried. It was hardly noticed by the population at large.
All this came out in questioning of Pentagon officials: Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of special operations; Robert Taylor, acting general counsel, Department of Defense; Brigadier General Richard Gross and General Michael Nagata. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham questioned them.
Graham: Do you agree with me, the war against radical Islam, or terror, whatever description you like to provide, will go on after the second term of President Obama?
Sheehan: Senator, in my judgment, this is going to go on for quite a while, and, yes, beyond the second term of the president.
Graham: And beyond this term of Congress?
Sheehan: Yes, sir. I think at least 10 to 20 years.
Graham: So from your point of view, you have all of the authorisation and legal authorities necessary to conduct a drone strike against terrorist organisations in Yemen without changing the AUMF.
Sheehan: Yes, sir, I do believe that.
Graham: You agree with that, General?
Gross: I do, sir.
Graham: General, do you agree with that?
Nagata: I do, sir.
Graham: OK. Could we send military members into Yemen to strike against one of these organisations? Does the president have the authority to put boots on the ground in Yemen?
Taylor: As I mentioned before, there’s domestic authority and international law authority. At the moment the basis for putting boots on the ground in Yemen, we respect the sovereignty of Yemen and it would –
Graham: I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about: Does he have the legal authority under our law to do that?
Taylor: Under domestic authority, he would have that authority.
Graham: I hope that Congress is OK with that. I’m OK with that. Does he have authority to put boots on the ground in the Congo?
Sheehan: Yes sir, he does.
Graham: Do you agree with me that when it comes to international terrorism, we’re talking about a worldwide struggle?
Sheehan: Absolutely, sir.
Graham: Would you agree with me the battlefield is wherever the enemy chooses to make it?
Sheehan: Yes, sir, from Boston to the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, along the Afghan border].
Graham: I couldn’t agree with you more. Do you agree with that, General?
Gross: yes, sir. I agree that the enemy decides where the battlefield is.
Graham: And it could be anyplace on the planet, and we have to be aware and able to act. And do you have the ability to act, and are you aware of the threats?
Sheehan: Yes, sir. We do have the ability to react, and we are tracking threats globally.
Besides the obvious, there are two things to note. When the Defense Department lawyer tried to talk about the sovereignty of other nations, he was told to shut up. The other is the reference to Boston as a battlefield.
The Democrats on the panel rushed to agree with Graham after King raised his objections.
King correctly said that the AUMF referred only to Al Qaeda as a target. But clearly the “war on terror” has gone way beyond that to include the countries Afghanistan and Iraq and any person or organisation the government declares is “terrorist.” King said, “… you are reading [the AUMF] to cover everything and anything”. The Pentagon officials and the Democratic and Republican senators clearly endorse the more expansive (indeed global) view of what the AUMF authorises.
King also said, “The Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11, clearly states that Congress has the power to declare war”. The last time the Congress declared war was for the second world war. That was before the Department of War changed its name to “Department of Defense” after the US and Britain launched the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
Except for a brief period after the second world war, when there was a massive revolt of US soldiers against plans to continue the war in Asia by invading China, the US has been engaging in acts of war such as trade sanctions and blockades, and actual wars including the Cold War, which included permanent threats of atomic annihilation, ever since. None of these wars was declared by Congress. Instead it passed vague “enabling” resolutions after the fact, to endorse the wars launched by the executive.
The US invasion of Korea wasn’t even called a war. It was a “police action” by the United Nations.
The US was involved in France’s war against Vietnam from 1945, and later directly with the US invasion. Congress never declared war against Vietnam, but it did pass an “enabling” resolution at President Johnson’s demand, called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It referred to a supposed attack on US warships off Vietnam’s shores, an attack it was later revealed never happened.
When the US under President Kennedy organised the invasion of Cuba by Cuban counter-revolutionaries living in Miami under US law, there was no Congressional declaration of war against Cuba. During the so-called Cuban missile crisis, the US came within a hair’s breadth of launching an atomic attack on the Soviet Union, according to then Secretary of Defense McNamara, without a Congressional declaration of war.
The wars against Nicaragua and El Salvador under President Ronald Reagan using proxy troops trained, armed and organised by Washington were not the result of a Congressional declaration of war. Indeed, Congress passed a resolution to halt the funding of these wars, but Reagan just laughed at this Congressional display of impotence and circumvented it.
The first Gulf War against Iraq was not declared either, but done under UN auspices. The attack on Somalia and Serbia by President Clinton found other fig leaves.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the special forces attacks in Pakistan, the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, etc. etc. all come under the AUMF – broadly interpreted – and no Congressional declaration of war.
In any case, the US no longer wages “war”; it wages “defence”.
This usurpation of power by the executive branch at the expense of the US Congress and Constitution is part of a broader phenomenon since the rise of modern capitalist imperialism in the late 19th century. The power of the executive in the imperialist countries has mushroomed along with the massive increase in the armed forces of the state. This was glaring in the fascist regimes, but was evident in the imperialist democracies too.
This is crystal clear in the massive US military machine with its nearly 1000 bases spread around the world, in its nuclear arsenal on hair-trigger and in the absolute military power concentrated in the executive branch, with “Congressional oversight” a joke.