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If the Congress Declares War

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Aristophanes Posted: Thu, Jun 7 2012 9:55 PM

Ron and Rand Paul usually talk about how the proper authority to go to war in the U.S. system is for the Congress to declare it.  So, when the President usurps a small amount of power (in terms of military use) and it is 'controversial' due to the usurpation of power, the politics in the legislature, and the PR that is needed to successfully wage an "executive war" (let's call them), the use of force is limited.  The weapons used are limited, strategies are limited, etc.

What we see today, against the other possibilities, really are humane wars.  For if they were legally justified there would be no fetters to the use of force in all of its various applications.

If the Congress declares war, the military will go all out.  It will be free to use incredible amount of force far beyond what is currently being employed.  It won't be the PR based political wars we are used to in this last decade.  We will kill many many more people at a time.

Just the flip side of giving them legitimate authority.

And just think.  The current trend towards internationalism and international justification for military use (nation state consensus) will frown upon a unilateral nation state waging a full blown war.  So, again, if we do things by the book, the world will get mad at the U.S...

What are your thoughts?  Also, I am not particularly interested in libertarian policy perscriptions on this one.

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Bogart replied on Fri, Jun 8 2012 8:11 AM

It is very difficult to get any politician to directly support anything much less a war.  So if the USA would follow its Constitution and have Congress take over the power to start a war from the President then there would be a whole lot fewer wars or at least there had been in the 19th century.

As for the world being mad at the USA, it already is.  I travel abroad to South America often and the whole way US folks get treated has changed for the worse.  I can only imagine how much worse this is in the Middle East and Africa.

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I think it's an interesting thesis. From what I understand, the point of requiring Congress to declare war was to make it more difficult for war to be declared at all. There are currently 535 voting Congressmen (100 Senators and 435 Representatives) vs. one President. Assuming that a Congressional declaration of war requires a simple majority, the probability of at least 51 Senators voting in favor is about 0.46. I wasn't able to calculate the probability of at least 218 Representatives voting in favor, since the factorial values are too large for the software I'm using, but I assume it's even closer to 0.5. On the other hand, the probability of one President deciding to wage war is exactly 0.5. So there's a slightly lower probability that a simple majority of Congressmen will vote to wage war than the President will decide to. Raise the majority requirement and the probability difference increases. However, this treats every Congressman's voting decision as an independent random variable (i.e. no Congressman influences any other in his voting). In real life, it may be inaccurate to assume this in all cases.

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The power of the purse still rests with Congress.  If they're willing to fund undeclared wars and military engagements then undeclared wars and military engagements will happen.

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Marko replied on Fri, Jun 8 2012 4:26 PM

It is very difficult to get any politician to directly support anything much less a war.

Good job in identifying the driving force that brought the practice of undeclared wars. It isn't so much a mad drive for power as it is the tendency of politicans to shirk responsibility. You declare it — you own it. The congress is afraid to own a war so it unlawfully passes on the warmaking powers and unties the presidents' hands, who in turn hide behind the UN, NATO, ad-hoc coalitions, whatever...

Our lives aren't so much run by Bolshevik-like objective-driven fanatics who worship power and wish to use it in the most in-your-face manner on general principles, (which would have been almost understandable,) but by insecure cowards who rule almost by default — because there are so few voices challanging their moral authority to wield it.

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