Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: Never ending warfare. 23 May '11

Last Friday marked 60 days since the war in Libya began…and there’s still no formal declaration of war from Congress.

According to our Constitution - Congress is the only branch of our government with power to declare war - not the President. It's written right in Article 1 - Section 8:

The Congress shall have the power to...Declare war...and to raise and support armies but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years

The framers of the Constitution added that last little bit about a 2-year time limit on war appropriations - just to prevent against things like endless war. And for most of American history - that separation of power between the President and the Congress remained intact

But then - after US Presidents ignored Congress to launch the Korean War in the 1950s and the Vietnam War shortly thereafter - Congress asserted its constitutional authority to reign in Richard Nixon with the War Powers Resolution - a new law that let's the President commit our nation to war without Congress - but only for 60 days...still a pretty generous hand over of power to the executive branch.

But it was an affront to Nixon, who vetoed the War Powers resolution - basically saying he wasn't going to play ball with the new restrictions on the power he and his recent predecessors had claimed in the oval office.

But Congress overturned Nixon's veto - and passed into law these new checks on Presidential power that our Founders never intended the President to have. From that point on - after 60 days - a President MUST ask Congress for permission to continue a war.

So now that 60 days are up in Libya - is President Obama going to Congress?


The White House wrote a letter to the Congressional leadership last week arguing that the “limited” nature of US military involvement does not require approval from Congress.

Exactly what the White House’s definition of “limited” is, in a war that's cost American taxpayer over $750 million so and involves our military machine killing a lot of people…you’ve got me.

But what is known is that President Obama is the 5th US President in a row to start his own war overseas - send troops abroad with order to kill - and not think twice about asking Congress if that’s ok. In fact - Congress hasn’t stamped approval on a war since World War 2.

The reasons for these unapproved wars over the last few decades have been numerous - but most of them have at least had endgames.

Reagan invaded Grenada - likely taking a page from his good friend Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher in the UK who invaded the Falkland Islands for political capital - the "little war" made her instantly popular, and Grenada helped Reagan, in the same way.

Bush senior went to war in Kuwait to kick out the Iraqis - that was mostly over oil, and he even set it up by having the US Envoy to Iraq, April Gillespie, tell Saddam Hussein that if he went into Kuwait the US would consider it an internal affair and not get involved.

So much for April's assurances - Hussein taking Bush Senior's cue gave Bush the excuse he needed to have his own war, although it was short - only a few days long.

Clinton went to war in Kosovo - a war that was very popular but is still being debated.

And then George W. Bush came to power thanks to the Supreme Court in 2000. And like Reagan - Bush had plans to start a war for political capital - he told his biographer Mickey Herskowitz back in 1999 that he was going to invade Iraq to earn enough capital to privatize Social Security.

But then 9/11 happened - and instead of a one-time war as Bush had intended - he - and his handlers like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld - opted for perpetual war…a “War on Terror” that would last as long as his presidency lasted.

So Afghanistan happened - Iraq happened - and countless other covert military actions in places like Yemen happened.

But with the War On Terror that George W. Bush dreamed up - the United States of America was - for the first time - involved in a war without any clear ending - a recipe for perpetual war - Orwellian perpetual war. Listen to how Bush justified his endless war:

When we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.

Right. He might as well have ripped his words straight from the text of Orwell's 1984 when Big Brother told everyone that "War is Peace."

But last week it went on steroids. To really commit America to a war ravaged dystopia - last week - Congress took a step toward enshrining perpetual war into law with the Defense Authorization Act that reads:

Congress affirms that - the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens...the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict...pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force...until the termination of hostilities.

In others words...War on Terror until all the terrorists on planet Earth are killed - something that will never ever happen.

This was the worst nightmare for James Madison - the father of our constitution and 4th President of the United States. Madison wrote so eloquently that:

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. In war,

Madison continued,

the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force, of the people...War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them.

Ultimately, Madison said:

No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Yet here we are - in the midst of perpetual warfare against "terrorism" - with our current President telling Congress that he doesn't need their approval for a billion dollar war in Libya that puts American soldiers in harms way - and really has nothing to do with terrorism.

But as psychologist Abraham Maslow famously noted - when your only tool is a hammer - then all problems look like nails.

And even though some progressives may trust Obama with perpetual war powers to defeat terrorism - what about the next President - will he or she be trusted with the wheel to America's war machine?

In an interview last year with journalist Bob Woodward, President Obama - perhaps without realizing its application to himself - said, "War is Hell - and once the dogs of war are unleashed - you don't know where it's going to lead."

And, tragically, right now our Congress - in a Republican-led effort but very little resistance from Democrats - is doing everything it can to prevent the dogs of war from ever coming back home.

That's The Big Picture.

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