Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Parable on the Use of the US Armed Forces

Imagine you and I live on a farm, with separate houses on either side of a pond. As part of our contractual arrangement for living on the same farm, you are to do the fishing for both of us, and I'm to tend to the fields.

Now, the area we live in is fertile and normally receives more than enough rainfall to keep the crops healthy. Being wise planners, however, we install an irrigation system that draws water from the pond in case there is a drought. Since use of the irrigation system will affect your fishing, we decide that I will hold the key to the pump motor, but that you are the one to determine that there is, in actuality, a drought.

For years, our arrangement works nicely, and we survive a few tough summers with both fish and crops aplenty. At some point, however, you notice that I've been doing some irrigating when there is no drought and confront me on what you see as an overstep.

"It's simple," I explain, "sometimes the crops need a little extra water even though there is no drought. Since I'm the one in charge of the pump motor, it's my call to use it when I need to."

"No," you reply. "By the intent of our agreement, I'm the only one who can authorize the use of the pump motor whether or not there is a drought. I'm reasonable and know that emergencies may crop up where you can't get my authorization beforehand, but in those cases you need to get ahold of me as soon as possible and let me make the decision to keep the irrigation system on or turn it off."

Well, we never really come to a meeting of the minds on this. I maintain that, since I have the key to the pump, I determine when it gets used and you maintain that I need your authorization. Instead of arguing about it, though, I just declare every use as an emergency and back-brief you on the situation. That keeps the peace, but the pond is slowly being drained until it seriously threatens your ability to fish.

You check with your lawyer to see what you can do to restrict my use of the irrigation system without destroying the crops. Your lawyer tells you, "unfortunately, the original agreement made only contemplates use of the irrigation system during a drought. Since you didn't mod the original agreeement to include non-drought use, whether or not you provide authorization is irrelevent."

My advisor acknowledges the same circumstances, but comes up with a different read. "It's true that the original agreement only contemplates a drought and hasn't been modded. Therefore, non-drought use is purely by your discretion. Besides, even if the 'non-drought authorization' garbage were binding, he has given you open-ended authorization to use the system."

This parable has no end or moral, it is just meant to bypass impassioned rhetoric to show the two reads on the use of the US Armed Forces. You are the US Congress, I am the President, our original agreement is the US Constitution, the irrigation system is the armed forces, drought is war, and the "non-drought use authorization" is the War Powers Resolution of 1973, vetoed by President Nixon, overridden by the congress, and considered unconstitutional by every President since.

After the second GOP debate, my adviser was Sean Hannity and your lawyer was Presidential candidate Ron Paul (who is not a lawyer but a strong constitutionalist). At the end of this clip is the quick exchange about declaration of war:

Who is right? Well, it's certainly not cut-and-dried (as the parable shows), but Dr. Paul has every President from Nixon to the current President Bush on his side that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional (although I doubt any would agree with him that the use of the armed forces is constitutionally limited to declared wars). Hannity, who rarely expresses any rationale beyond gut instinct, seems to accept that the War Powers Resolution IS constitutional, although he is contradicted on this point in the book Let Freedom Ring by...Sean Hannity.

Last night, Hannity was more civil toward Congressman Paul. I get the feeling that Hannity knows he's going to be dealing with Dr. Paul for a long while, but also that, as he mentions at the very end of the clip, "it's always good to spar with you":

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