For nearly 20 years, we’ve willfully blinded ourselves to the Rosetta Stone that decodes our enemy’s war doctrine. But the jihad (or shall we call it “kinetic Islam”?) is catalyzed not by al-Qaeda but by sharia — by Muslim law. So is the “Arab Spring,” now playing in Tripoli (and elsewhere) after rave reviews in Cairo.
I have been opposed to our country’s starting a war against Libya. And starting a war is exactly what we have done, exactly what we would call it if the shoe were on the other foot — the “kinetic” and “limited” obfuscations of intervention proponents notwithstanding. My opposition is fourfold.
First, as a constitutional matter, Congress has neither declared war nor otherwise authorized combat operations. When there has been no attack on the United States, no imminent prospect of attack against us, and no vital American interest implicated, our system obliges the president to have approval from the people’s representatives before entangling the people in a foreign conflict.
Second, and more weighty than the legal prerequisites for war (about which there is considerable dispute), is the prudential policy implicit in this constitutional guidance (about which there should be no dispute). The American people are a free and self-determining body politic. It is we, not the president alone, who should make the most important decision a body politic can make: the decision to go to war.
Yes, the Framers understood the necessity of reposing in one official, the president, the power to unleash all the nation’s strength in the event of a real threat to our country, as quickly and decisively as the circumstances demand. After all, in the late 18th century, it was anything but clear that the United States would survive. That’s a big part of why the Articles of Confederation, with their potentially suicidal security-by-committee approach, had to be supplanted by the Constitution and its powerful commander-in-chief.
Nevertheless, the Framers also grasped the other side of the coin: creating a commander-in-chief made it possible for a single official, just as suicidally, to launch unprovoked wars, inevitably provoking retaliatory strikes against us. They checked this danger by endowing Congress, too, with war powers — with the means to starve executive recklessness of legitimacy and funding.
Bottom line: In a country where the people, not the president, are sovereign, it is foolhardy to go to war without public support. If the people are expected to pay for and die in a military expedition that we initiate against a country that has not threatened us, it is essential to have strong public support. That support is won — or not — by forthrightly seeking congressional authorization. Intervention proponents claim that it is manifestly in our interests to topple Colonel Qaddafi on behalf of the “rebels.” If they are right, it should be easy for the administration to get a legislative green light. President Obama hasn’t tried, despite marathon negotiations with NATO, the U.N. Security Council, and the Arab League. Nor does his rah-rah chorus seem especially anxious that he try. This testifies eloquently to the fact that there is strong public opposition, no matter how artfully polls confirming that opposition are depicted as signs of potential support.
Third, and no doubt at the root of much public opposition, is the fact that we are broke. After a decade’s misadventures in Islamic nation-building, we can safely say that “kinetic military actions” against kinetic Islam are prohibitively expensive. A people whose unborn children and grandchildren will start out life trillions in hock begins to realize that they can’t afford to go to war unless they have to go to war. Moreover, the real war inside our nation right now is against the Left’s unsustainable welfare state. Any more billions we pour into unnecessary wars are billions denied to necessary security spending — such as border security, as NR’s Kevin D. Williamson points out. More to the point, they are also billions the Left will use as a cudgel to beat back vital spending cuts. Can’t you hear it now: “We’re blowing a fortune to wage dubious kinetic military actions in the Middle East, but conservatives claim we don’t have comparative pennies for education, health care, mortgage relief, our bankrupt states, preserving our safety net, NPR, etc., etc.”