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VALLELY: What should be done with the war powers act?

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008
COMMENTARY:

PAUL E. VALLELY

The Miller Center's National War Powers Commission, co-chaired by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Warren Christopher, this past Tuesday recommended that Congress repeal the War Power's Act of 1973 (Joint Resolution) and substitute a new statute that would provide for more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on matters of war. This means to me that they agree not to disagree and clearly avoids giving the necessary power to the executive branch and the president, who is the commander in chief.

There is clear merit in opposing the recommendations of the commission. The president needs and requires the latitude to protect America and its people on a timely basis. We certainly know how effective a consultative process works between the executive and legislative branches. Not very well nor timely. We can do better than this to safeguard the United States and I oppose the commission report.

The commission reports that the War Powers Act of 1973 is "ineffective and impractical." This new alternative is unwilling to state that either Congress or the president has a pre-eminent role and subsequent power to commit U.S. forces into combat. Consultation is the process prescribed (Mr. Baker and Mr. Christopher love this process as lawyers), so it is recommended that this is the way to decide when we go to war. Can you imagine how effective this would be with the neutered politicians we have today? We all know how effective hearings and consultative government are as a substitute for good effective leadership.

What is happening with this report as it does not place the burden on the president to justify military operations and build necessary support to go to war in a timely fashion. The commission concluded that the War Powers Act has failed to promote cooperation between the two branches of government and recommended that Congress pass a new statute - the War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 - that would establish a clear process on decisions to go to war.

Now the real story. The War Powers Consultation Act of 2009:

Provides that the president shall consult Congress before deploying U.S. troops into "significant armed conflict" - i.e. combat operations lasting, or expected to last, more than a week. How can a commander in chief or any general or admiral forecast that with any accuracy? And can you imagine the debate on what is significant?

Defines the type of hostilities that would or would not be considered "significant armed conflicts." Define that for the global war on terror?

Creates a new Joint Congressional Consultation Committee, which includes leaders of both Houses as well as the chair and ranking members of key committees. What scares me more than anything with this proposal are the words consultation and committee? These are the words lawyers use not what warriors use. Wowed by more political and legalese gibberish.

Establishes a permanent bipartisan staff with access to the national security and intelligence information necessary to conduct its work. The word staff scares me here and appears that we are preparing for a grand jury hearing rather than expediting a decision to go to war or not.

Calls on Congress to vote up or down on significant armed conflicts within 30 days. Yes, and they should be open debates so our enemies know exactly what we will do or not do. The press will cover this well for the world to see.

Can we ever bring trust back to our president and the elected leaders and representatives in Congress? I am not sure even that the War Powers Act or this new War Powers Consultation Act is constitutional. We might ask if either is necessary. Congress is not going to waiver any of its power over the executive branch and vice versa. As we may remember, the War Powers Act was not well thought out and was a hasty legislative response to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. I admit that consultation is good for politics and policy-makers but not as a process of having to rapidly go to war. Those responsible for the intricate planning of offensive or defensive military action must take into account the threat to our immediate and future security and not be impeded by unnecessary consultative and additional staff processes and slow, cumbersome bureaucracy. We need a process that expedites the power sharing of our executive and legislative branches and streamlines the decision-making and support actions required to commit our armed forces to all spectrums of conflict.

We welcome immediate congressional and executive attention to the proposals of this commission. We can do better in the 21st century to ensure we can engage in armed conflict when all else fails and that we do it effectively and efficiently in a timely manner. The Miller Center's National War Powers Commission is not the solution.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely is the host of the conservative radio show, "Stand Up America."