The leaders of the Republican Party—Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney—do not seem able or willing to grasp this basic fact, but persist in the lie that it is the President who declares war.
Palin suggests that a declaration of war by President Obama would be a political maneuver, designed to achieve re-election. Some of us felt that G.W. Bush used the Iraq invasion for that very purpose, having seen how his father's failure to keep his own Gulf invasion going through the 1992 elections brought about his electoral defeat. Make no mistake about it, Palin is signaling her minions that if she is elected she will not hesitate to play the 'war card' to retain her (and by inference their) grip on power. This is the way she thinks. She is dangerous. This, of course, is one of the reasons why the founders of this country vested power to declare war in the legislature, and not the presidency.
Cheney's lie is even more insidious if only because it attempts to re-write history using the sloppy argot of conventional wisdom. On ABC News's This Week of Feb. 14, he made the following remarks:
CHENEY: Well, my reference to the notion that the president was trying to avoid treating this as a war was in relation to his initial response when we heard about the Christmas underwear bomber...He is claiming that the U.S. is at war. That is a lie. No WAR has been declared by the U.S. Congress since 1942. Cheney and Bush never sought a declaration of war against anyone. They sought an authorization to use force, against Iraq and Afghanistan. And they talked about a 'war on terror'—a virtually meaningless phrase which they used to authorize, as Cheney says in his interview, tactics recognized historically and world-wide as torture and to engage in illegal domestic surveillance, among other things. Many feel they used the rhetoric of war to frighten the populace and justify the consolidation and expansion of Executive powers, not vice versa.
CHENEY: ... up in Detroit, when he went out and said this was the act of an isolated extremist. No, it wasn't. And we found out over time, obviously -- and he eventually changed his -- his assessment -- but that, in fact, this was an individual who'd been trained by Al Qaida, who'd been part of a larger conspiracy, and it was closer to being an act of war than it was the act of an isolated extremist.
It's the mindset that concerns me, John. I think it's -- it's very important to go back and keep in mind the distinction between handling these events as criminal acts, which was the way we did before 9/11, and then looking at 9/11 and saying, "This is not a criminal act," not when you destroy 16 acres of Manhattan, kill 3,000 Americans, blow a big hole in the Pentagon. That's an act of war.
KARL: Well -- well...
CHENEY: And what the administration was slow to do was to come to that -- that recognition that we are at war, not dealing with criminal acts. And as I say, my response there dealt specifically to the fact the president called it an isolated extremist. It was not.
This opinion is bolstered by their fiscal sleight-of-hand in keeping their military adventures 'off the books.' They didn't include the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan military actions in their official budgets, nor did they make any effort to finance those actions. That's just an old accounting trick (they called themselves the 'CEO administration') concocted by business bosses to make their company's finances look better to shareholders/owners than they really are—in the case of politics, to get re-elected. The consequences of such chicanery usually don't come due until after the boss has collected his/her bonus and moved on, leaving the next administration to clean up their mess and attempt to right the ship.
The problem they faced was that there was no one to declare war on. The perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 atrocities were, as far as anyone can tell, a stateless group of operatives. It was not the act of an enemy state. If it had been, I have no doubt we would have declared war on that state. And, quite frankly, I feel it would have been justified. Bush/Cheney, however, made the ill-conceived, ill-advised, ill-justified decision to invade Iraq. It solved certain problems for them (which Cheney proceeds to enumerate in his This Week interview) and gave Bush the gravitas of being a 'War President' when it came time to stand for re-election, but it was never war.
The Tea Party protesters and Republican fundamentalists rail against Democrats for straying from the Constitution and claim that all they want is a limited government which hews closely to the original Constitution. But it was Bush/Cheney, more than any administration in my lifetime, which abused the Constitution in general and the War Powers Clause in specific, inter alia, for their own political ends. They continue to insist that their actions were wholly constitutional and that they successfully prosecuted war. And they persist in calling President Obama weak because he does not recognize a war that they themselves refused to recognize officially and constitutionally by seeking a declaration of war from Congress (which they might not have been able to obtain) and including these war-like activities in their financial statements (which would show the electorate just how they were bankrupting the country).
Moreover, the Tea Partiers brought in Sarah Palin to give the keynote address at their convention a week or so ago, yet her lack of grasp of the Constitution is so breathtaking that even Cheney slapped her down on this point in his interview on This Week. Yet—and here is where the danger to the country lies—the issue has been joined: arguably the two top Republicans in the country are debating whether the President should use war as a political tool. Palin says yes. Cheney says Palin should be careful what she says; presidents should never think this way—out loud. (Though many believe that is precisely the sort of political calculation Cheney and Karl Rove used in "persuading" Bush to make the decision to invade Iraq. For Cheney to admit such a thing would be for him to admit to an even worse war crime than he admits to in this interview w/r/t torture.) Nevertheless, the issue is out there in plain sight. Clearly, they think about these things. And that should give us all pause.