The U.S. House of Representatives recently refused to pass a resolution supporting the Obama Administration's current military engagement in Libya. Had it done so, along with a similar resolution in the Senate, it would have put Obama in compliance with the 1973 War Powers Act which requires the president to consult with Congress before deploying troops and then seek authorization within sixty days or withdraw the troops.
The exact language of the Act which is supposed to trigger executive compliance for notification, authorization and/or withdrawal of forces is:
"The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations."
However, the War Powers Act, which was a reaction to the decade long Viet Nam war, has been the subject of controversy ever since its passage over President Nixon's veto. Every president since has questioned the constitutionality of all or parts of the act and none have complied completely with each of the acts provisions. Presidents, unwilling to compromise their constitutional authority as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive to conduct foreign policy have typically "notified" Congress "in accordance with" but not "pursuant to" the Act, language which would start the sixty day time clock.
Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton conducted military operations in Grenada, Panama and Kosovo using this procedure without specific authorization from Congress. The provisions of the Act were mooted by specific congressional "resolutions" in support of the first Gulf War (1990), the Afghanistan invasion (2001) and the Iraq war (2003).
The current debate is complicated by several contextual factors. First, the nation is engaged in military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been going on for ten years and eight years respectively. Military involvement in Pakistan in the form of air attacks on Al-Qaida terrorists and the assault on Osama bin-Laden's compound have driven a wedge between the U.S. and Pakistani governments in spite of billions of annual aid to Pakistan, and polls affirm that the nation is "war weary".
Second, the costs of all these operations are enormous and in the face of a serious and persistent recession, adding yet another expensive military engagement without apparent relation to U.S. security interests is hard to justify based solely on humanitarian motives, especially when there are regional actors whose interests are more closely affected who could become more involved. The U.S. costs for Libya alone through June 3rd are $716 million and the projected costs through September 30th are $1.1 billion.
Third, is the political context. The House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party, which is generally opposed to the Obama Administration's overall policy agenda and which is currently influenced by the beginning of the 2012 election cycle. This issue just further divides the parties and makes the compromises necessary for doing Congress's essential work more difficult.
Both the facts and the politics seem to be on the side of those claiming that President Obama is in violation of the War Powers Act. This includes both Republicans and Democrats who would have supported the mission if Obama had complied with the required procedures as well as those opposed to the intervention on any grounds.
In response to the uproar, the Obama Administration released a thirty-four page document explaining its position, which is that the War Powers Act doesn't apply. In providing the document Obama used the same language as his presidential predecessors.
"For these purposes, I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action."
Given the genuine constitutional questions involved, he would have been better served to leave it at that. However he chose to create a report thaat makes arguments which make little sense and has just inflamed the debate.
The essence of the Administration's argument is that the U.S. is not engaged in "hostilities" or "imminent hostilities" because there are no ground troops involved. But the opening of the operation included the launching of hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles from both American and British warships. The Administration's report to Congress acknowledges that 25% of over 10,000 individual combat aircraft sorties were flown by American aircraft and the continuing role of the U.S. involves the deployment of numerous ships in the blockade effort, the use of Predator UAVs, and the provision of the bulk of intelligence and air refueling.
Humanitarian goals, United Nations and NATO commitments aside, the U.S. is clearly engaged in "hostilities" in Libya and will be for the foreseeable future. The President has needlessly sacrificed credibility by unnecessarily constructing a false description of the operation. Latest polls show that Americans disapprove of our involvement by 46% to 39% (Gallup: 6/22). Only Democrats, demonstrating their continued loyalty to Obama support the involvement, 54% to 35%. Republicans oppose it 47% to 39% and perhaps more importantly, Independents oppose it 52% to 31%.
Thus the U.S. is engaged in another civil war whose outcome might be influenced but not determined by its involvement. The best case scenario for Obama and the nation is for Ghadaffi to step down and perhaps flee to Syria where another vicious dictator is killing his own people but whose relationships with Lebanon and Iran make humanitarian goals less important to Western leaders. A more credible outcome would be for Ghadaffi to be "accidentally killed" in a NATO air strike since incredibly the coalition political leaders prefer to drag on the conflict and accept civilian casualties rather than eliminating a "Muslim leader" as matter of policy and settling the issue.
The latest buzz in the Republican presidential nomination saga is the possible candidacy of Texas Governor Rick Perry. The speculation has occurred partially because of an apparent enthusiasm vacuum in the current GOP field of announced candidates.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while leading in all the polls is confronting resistance among both the party's social conservatives in the ranks of the "religious right", and among fiscal conservatives in the Tea Party. Current Tea Party favorites, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul still haven't shown strong poll numbers among the wider "Republican voters" category. (RCP Average: Romney 24%: Bachmann 6.3%: Paul 6.9%), although the "pundit consensus" is that Bachmann's numbers will "surge" after her perceived strong showing in the recent New Hampshire Republican candidate debate.
Governor Perry's attraction in a lack luster field is thus understandable. Perry has credentials which in resume' form diminish those of the other candidates. The only exception would be former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. But Gingrich had significant "style issues" involving ethics charges while Speaker and then multiple marriages. More recently his campaign staff resigned en masse in an apparent group conclusion that his chances were improbable to non-existent.
Perry has been the governor of Texas for ten years, the longest serving governor in Texas history. Prior to that he served in the Texas House of Representatives and was Texas Agriculture Commissioner. He was elected Lt. Governor in 1999 and assumed the governorship in 2000 when George Bush became President. He has since served as Chairman of the Republican Governors Association and is in line for a second term.
At a time when leadership and the ability to make tough decisions is more important than ever, this "executive experience" stands out against Romney's one term as Massachusetts Governor, Tim Pawlenty's two terms as Minnesota governor and Bachmann's one term in the Minnesota Senate and two terms in the U.S. House. In addition, Romney still wears the albatross of his Massachusetts health care program which with it's coverage mandate seems to resemble the major characteristic of ObamaCare which is much maligned among Republican conservatives. Pawlenty is currently struggling with the pundit inspired impression that he is a mild mannered technocrat not up to presidential challenges. Bachmann is more of a cheerleader than a quarterback with a library full of wacky statements that would make a successful campaign against Obama difficult if not impossible. The 76 year old Ron Paul is much admired among the hard core anti-government libertarian wing of the Republican party but remains essentially a fringe protest candidate, a kind of Dennis Kucinich of the Right. Paul and Bachmann's influence in the race is more likely to be to pull the more moderate and more electable candidates to the right during the primary battle.
Rick Perry fits the bill as both a social and fiscal conservative already, and one who has serious political credentials. He is opposed to single sex marriage and is pro-life. He supports tough law enforcement, including the death penalty. He questions global warming, as would be expected from a governor of a state economically dependent on the production of fossil fuels. He has overseen new tort reform legislation which makes frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits less likely and physician’s malpractice insurance premiums much less expensive. He has also supported significant health and education initiatives while remaining a fiscal conservative supporting Texas’s current no state income tax status and low property taxes. The result has been a business friendly climate in Texas for years and one that has allowed Texas to weather the recession storm much better than other states. By one estimate 48% of the nation’s job creation since 2009 has occurred in Texas.
All these attributes led to his invitation to speak at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on June 18th. His speech consisted of straight forward conservative fundamentals and its enthusiastic reception may have significantly changed the Republican nomination process.
However, it remains to be seen how Republican primary voters will evaluate the relative importance of ideological purity and the ability of a candidate to defeat Obama in a national election in which independents and moderates play a crucial role. Would moderate and independent voters in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, the so called “battle ground states” see Perry as the reincarnation of George Bush? In politics perception is often reality. There is no question that in 2008 this worked both in favor of Obama and against McCain. Obama was perceived as having a level of competence based on his education, intelligence, and speaking ability that wasn’t supported by his thin resume’. McCain was partially the victim of “Bush fatigue” among voters who “perceived” little difference in both his foreign policy and domestic policies to those of the former president.
Certainly those on the political Left will not be ready for another conservative Texas governor and Perry could expect a lot of hostile comparisons. The “Bush swagger” is not apparent but the drawl and the conservative philosophy remains. Perry, like Bush, is from the plains of west Texas; Bush from Midland, Perry from Paint Creek. Both appeal to religious conservatives; Perry has declared a National Day of Prayer and invited all the country’s governors to attend. He is outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and fetal stem cell research.
Perry however, can seek to put some space between himself and Bush in terms of their personal background. While Bush was raised in west Texas, he was the heir to a dynasty of eastern establishment Republicans. Unlike Bush’s reputation for youthful excesses Perry was an Eagle Scout as was his son. Bush went on to Yale and Harvard, Perry graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in animal science. Bush flirted with military service in the Texas Air National Guard but dropped out. Perry served six years on active duty in the Air Force flying C-130 aircraft. Still Perry was Bush’s Lt. Governor and their association politically, culturally, and ideologically won’t be ignored by both their critics.
In terms of the nomination battle, a Perry candidacy would probably initiate a higher level of enthusiasm among likely Republican voters as a whole. As a fiscal and social conservative with better credentials, he would likely most take support away from Bachmann and Paul and finally and thankfully, remove Palin from the political scene. He would be expected to do better in religiously conservative Iowa than in fiscally conservative New Hampshire where Romney has significant regional loyalty. He has yet to speak about foreign policy, however, barring some major gaffe, Perry would be a formidable candidate in the nomination process. These early primary states, while not predictive of the nominee usually have the ability to reduce the field by affecting low performers ability to raise money. Thus Perry could be a major player whether he ultimately prevails or not.
As the presidential political campaign slowly comes together and the Congress and President confront the pivotal extension of the federal debt limit, the various approaches to the national financial crisis are becoming more clear. Not surprisingly, these strategies reflect general ideological preferences. What are still broad preferences with a few specifics will ultimately define themselves in to clear choices for voters in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections.
While the national debt has center stage in the debt ceiling debate, high unemployment i.e. "jobs", has the most political leverage. In the simplest terms the jobs conundrum is a circular one. Employers, both large and small, although reportedly holding cumulative financial assets approaching one trillion dollars, are reluctant to invest in business expansion and the attendant expansion of the work force because they cannot foresee increased demand for goods and services on the horizon. The large unemployed and under-employed national work force is unable or unwilling to spend at pre-recession levels thus holding down aggregate demand and perpetuating low employment levels.
In general, the Obama Administration and those on the liberal side of the argument prefer government spending programs to create jobs and thus stimulate demand in the private sector. They often cite the Roosevelt Administration's Works Project Administration which was created in the response to the "Great Depression" of the 1930's and which put thousands of unemployed citizens to work on national infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, national parks, and dams.
Generally respected columnist Fareed Zacharia has proposed a federal "infrastructure bank" which would fund such projects by issuing bonds. The expected upside of such a strategy would be that the bonds would take advantage of current low interest rates, the employment boost from providing construction jobs would be significant and the nation's badly deteriorating infrastructure would be repaired.
The downside is that the hundreds of billions of dollars in bonds which would be needed to have an impact on both unemployment and infrastructure represents more federal debt. Government estimates indicate that "each $1 billion spent on construction should create roughly 19,600 construction jobs, each lasting a year". Thus to create 2 million temporary construction jobs would require additional federal debt of $104 billion. Government construction projects produce no profits with which to pay the interest on the debt. Infrastructure projects in state and local communities are also funded with bonds but the interest on the bonds is paid for with tax revenues. This would also be the case in any federal bond scheme.
While putting construction workers back to work would be beneficial in any strategy, the "infrastructure" scenario promoted so often by liberals is overstated as a solution to both the unemployment problem and the effect it would have on the national economy.
In 2009, 12.4 percent of all unemployed workers were previously employed in the construction industry, roughly 2 million individuals. In May, 2011 the total number of unemployed in the U.S. was just under 14 million with as many as six million more having given up looking for jobs or in the ranks of the "underemployed". Thus if all unemployed construction workers were hired by a federal infrastructure program, 87.6 % of unemployed workers would not be directly affected. Much of the unemployment in the construction industry comes from the devastated housing market. The construction materials industry that supports that market also contributes to the overall unemployment rate. Infrastructure, roads, bridges and dams would not affect workers in either of these fields.
There is an additional sidebar to the infrastructure strategy. The Center for Immigration Studies has estimated that about one out of seven (or 15 percent) of workers employed in construction in the United States are illegal immigrants. Without some kind of monitoring system, which would be opposed by the political Left, some 300 thousand illegal immigrants would be put back to work by U.S. taxpayers.
Republicans in Congress prefer to rely on the private sector to stimulate job growth. This approach avoids several problems: the temporary nature of government spending programs to stimulate employment; the excessive costs and federal debt incurred at a time of crisis level debt (fast approaching 100% of GDP) and the inevitable tax increases that would be needed to pay for the additional federal spending. The Republican approach, now being laid out by members of Congress and Republican presidential candidates generally involves deregulation and tax reductions on both individuals and businesses to put more money into the economy and stimulate both business investment and consumer spending.
Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has proposed reducing the business tax rate to 15% from its current 35% level. This loss of revenue would be off set to some degree by eliminating all tax deductions. He would expand the lower tax rate eligibility to S-Corps (personal corporations) and Limited Liability Corporations to simulate business creation in the small business sector which is the major provider of non-government employment.
Pawlenty would also reform individual tax rates by eliminating all but two which would be at the 10% and 25% level. This approach, along with reform of business restricting regulations and privatization of some federal government services, relies on stimulating the free market and increasing the money supply without the use of government funds. The potential down side of course is timing. Unlike direct government spending, there would be a lag of undetermined length between the reforms and the hoped for employment boost based on business expansion and individual tax reform. Unless these reforms were accompanied by significant cuts in federal spending, they, like the Democrats preferred strategy of increased spending, would create significant federal debt problems because of the loss of tax revenue. Republicans in Congress are committed to major cuts in spending but these will not occur on the level they seek without Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as well as control of the White House after 2012.
The conservative approach to job growth is also part of presumed presidential candidate Representative Michelle Bachmann's (R-MI) strategy. She would reduce the corporate tax rate to 9% and eliminate the capital gains tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax and federal inheritance taxes.
Thus the Republican's are offering a clear alternative to the Obama Administration and the Democrats in the Senate. Up till now President Obama's "plan" to stimulate job growth is somewhat indistinct. He keeps talking about "green jobs" but offers few specifics with respect to government policy. After two years of high unemployment he still prefers to "consult" rather than lead.
"I'll travel to North Carolina where I'll meet with my Jobs Council and talk about additional steps we can take to spur private-sector hiring in the short-term and ensure our workers have the skills and training they need," he said."
"Obama said investing in education and alternative energy would improve the job market but offered no specifics. An administration official said on Thursday the White House was discussing the idea of a temporary cut in payroll taxes that employers pay on wages, among other measures."
Obama will eventually be forced to offer a plan as the presidential campaign approaches and the pressure to respond to the Republican candidate’s ideas becomes intense. In the meantime, voters will have plenty of time to absorb and analyze the the Republican approach in the absence of a Democratic plan.
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On Sunday, October 7, 2001 just four weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President Bush announced the beginning of a military campaign against the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The initial action involved air attacks against Taliban military targets and Al Qaeda training camps. This was in response to the Taliban's refusal to comply with Bush's earlier demand that Al Qaeda operatives be handed over to the U.S. and their training camps be shut down. Bush described the action as "carefully targeted," and said its aim was to "cut the military capability of the Taliban regime."
Now after ten years, $455 billion and thousands of battle deaths and casualties retiring Secretary of Defense Gates recently said: “We’ve still got a ways to go, and I think we shouldn’t let up on the gas too much, at least for the next few months.”
Gates cites "progress" in the diminution of Taliban forces and the extent of their geographical control of areas of the country and his hope that this progress will encourage the Taliban to "negotiate" an end to the conflict. But this cautiously worded statement is essentially an admission that the best case military scenario after ten years, is stalemate. Time, as it always has been, is on the side of the Taliban. Known as the mujahideen before an offshoot known as the Taliban was organized, Afghan insurgents fought the former Soviet Union to a ten year defeat from 1979 to 1989.
Over the years the strategy of the U.S. has changed from Bush’s announced goal of cutting the Taliban’s military capability and harboring international terrorists, to a combined strategy of counter insurgency and “nation building”. In theory this would create a changed cultural and economic environment that would be resistant to the harsh Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban. But nowhere on the planet are the raw materials for nation building less available than in Afghanistan. The policy was misguided from its inception. The Taliban government was quickly overthrown in 2001 and a year of vigorous ground based military action would have imposed significant damage to the Taliban’s “military capability” and incentive to provide a safe haven for international terrorists. But the Afghan mission took a back seat to the 2003 Iraq invasion and until General Petraeus’ thirty thousand man troop surge under President Obama, nation building seemed to be the preferred broad strategy.
A few facts highlights the improbability of remaking Afghanistan into a stable, liberalized even quasi-democratic nation.
From the first influence of the European powers in Afghanistan in the early 1800s, centered mainly around British and Russian competition, through the defeat of the Taliban by U.S. led NATO forces, Afghanistan has never experienced anything but tribal based authoritarian governments of kings and dictators. There is no politically liberal or democratic tradition or even failed experiments, to build on.
There are seven major ethnic groups and numerous tribes speaking three major and thirty minor languages. Afghan cultural/political self identification is based more, in varying degrees, on tribal, extended family, and regional identification than on national identity.
Seventy-seven percent of the population resides in rural areas with a literacy rate of 28% (literacy among females is 12.6%). Gross Domestic Product (the annual value of all domestically produced goods and services) per capita is just $900 which is 217th out of 228 in the world. The economy produces little for export except opium and imports much, which results in a trade deficit currently of $2.475 billion financed largely by international aid.
The current government of Hamid Karzai is widely accused of being corrupt, and without U.S. financial support and military protection would (and will) almost certainly fall. U.S. policy seems to be one of holding on until the Afghan military is able to stand on its own to resist the Taliban insurgency. The military however has been infiltrated by insurgents willing to carry out suicide attacks on both NATO troops and Afghan government troops and police. The Taliban may well decide to “negotiate” some kind of power sharing scheme in order to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. forces, (our NATO partners are already facing political realities both domestic and in Afghanistan and withdrawing). The Taliban might also let these same political realities play out in the case of the U.S., knowing that as President Obama faces a tough reelection in 2012 he will be under enormous pressure from both the Democratic Left and the war weary independents and political conservatives to withdraw.
The current Obama timetable for beginning to withdraw the “surge” forces is July of this year, the process that Gates wants to delay. Whenever the process of withdrawal begins the overall strategy has no “victory scenario” as Gates’ hopeful forecast of negotiations makes clear.
The time for withdrawal has come. It is no longer a matter of liberal vs. conservative politics. The military response to Taliban participation in the 9/11 attacks was proper and justified. The short term goals of the overthrow of the Taliban government and diminution of their military strength were accomplished long ago. The efforts since then have ignored history, the difference in cultures and political realities. No more young American men should die in pursuit of a tenuous political compromise with a political bloc built around a pre-medieval religious based ideology.
One day after this commentary was posted, an article appeared in the NY Times regarding a report on U.S. aid to Afghanistan prepared by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Below are pertinent excerpts from that article.
"Foreign military and development funds now account for such an overwhelming share of the Afghan economy — equivalent to 97 percent of its gross economic product, by one estimate — that there is a real possibility of a “severe economic depression when foreign troops leave,” according to the report.
Too much money spent with too little oversight has fueled corruption and waste, the report says. For example, one program authorizes the payment of up to $100,000 a month to Afghan provincial leaders for local projects, “a tidal wave of funding” that can be difficult to efficiently and fairly absorb, it says.
". . . they question some key assumptions behind the nation-building work, specifically the notion that poverty, joblessness and lack of education have fueled extremism and insurgency.
Indeed, World Bank figures quoted in the report seem to contradict that assumption: Some of the most insurgency-plagued Afghan provinces, like Helmand and Kandahar, have relatively low poverty rates of less than 30 percent, while more peaceful provinces in central and northern Afghanistan have poverty rates as high as 58 percent, as in Balk Province.
“It is generally not the case that a lack of schools or roads drives conflict,” the report quotes Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, as saying. “Often the situation is far subtler, having to do with local power dynamics or long-held grudges.”