“Congress has no Constitutional power to micromanage a war”?

The WSJ’s OpinionJournal posted a rather poor op-ed that barely hides its partisan roots: Senators-in-Chief: Congress has no Constitutional power to micromanage a war. Ignoring the conflation of the responsibilities of the Senate and the House, the last three paragraphs are the tell:

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.

Mr. Bush was conciliatory and respectful in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, asking Congress to give his new Iraq strategy a chance. In a better world, the Members would do so. But if they insist on seeking political cover by trying to operate as a committee of 535 Commanders-in-Chief, Mr. Bush will have to start reminding Congress who really has the job.

This piece ignores the balance of power in our system and instead assumes we have a system of hand-offs. Congress was explicitly granted oversight responsibility through various means.

First, the Senate gets to “advise and consent” to nominations of military (as well as civilian) officers of the government, which is why General Petraeus was in front of the SASC to begin with. (However, only the President may remove the General.)

Second, the House was given the power of the purse. While the House has only once cut off funding, it has, to its right, managed to make changes over the years.

In 1812 Congress specifically the President to issue letters of marque to privateers against England with specific instructions on pay and monitoring. Monitoring and oversight is the third power of Congress. While not specifically laid out in the Constitution, the President over the years has acquiesced to this.

Let’s remember there is supposed to be a democratic control over the military, which assumes a level of oversight. The military’s two masters, Congress and President, are at odds here because Congress has decided to begin exercising its oversight. It did not handover its responsibility with its resolution in nearly four years ago.

This isn’t to say Congress should be playing this game, but let’s not get partisan about what it can or cannot do. It can but it should not cut off funding and it should not meddle to deeply, which it wants to do not because it questions the military but to play politics with the President.

One thought on ““Congress has no Constitutional power to micromanage a war”?

  1. Good points all. Congress clearly has significant powers over military operations and has used them in the past.If the lawmakers are smart, however, they’ll unite behind something that can actually pass, not just be a symbolic protest. And what might actually pass with GOP support is writing into law some of the benchmarks promised by the president and the prime minister.

Comments are closed.