For the Fourth of July, the paper ran a profile of a man named Sergio who is studying to become a naturalized citizen.
Click through the sample questions and you'll find some that Vice President Dick Cheney would get wrong:
What is the supreme law of the United States>
A. The Declaration of Independence
B. The Bill of Rights
C. The Magna Carta
D. The Constitution
(Cheney would answer "E. Whatever the president claims he has to do to fight terra.")
You'll find some questions that nativist CNN host Lou Dobbs would get wrong:
Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
A. Everyone (citizens and noncitizens living in the U.S.)
B. Registered voters
C. The President
D. Natural born citizens
And you'll find some questions to which most members of Congress seem to have forgotten the correct answer:
Who has the power to declare war?
B. The President
C. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
D. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
That last question got me to wondering — when was the last time that the United States officially declared war?
The answer: June 5, 1942 — against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.
That odd little fact could give you the wrong impression of America's history over the past 50 years if you didn't also realize that, short of declaring war, Congress also sometimes likes to "authorize" the use of "force." Since World War II, this has happened twice in Lebanon, twice in Iraq, and in Vietnam, Panama and Afghanistan. Not all of those ended well, and those that haven't yet ended don't seem likely to end well.
Recognizing the limits of Wikipedia, the entry linked to above includes some nice discussion of the War Powers Act and of the "current status of the U.S. debate" over declarations of war. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this debate, but it seems to me that the current practice — in which "force" is "deployed" and/or "authorized," without "war" ever being declared — can cloud the issue, insulating both Congress and the president from full accountability.
America (or at least America's military) is currently engaged in two "wars" — one in Iraq and one against "global terror," meaning chiefly select parts of Afghanistan. President Bush proudly asserts that this makes him a "war president." Except that neither of these "wars" has ever been declared.
The problem is not merely semantic. A declaration of war includes a direct object — you declare war against a particular foe. An "authorization of the use of military force" does not require such clarity.
Thus America seems to be at war in Iraq, but not at war with Iraq. The American forces who invaded and now occupy that country are, daily, getting shot at by someone. And those American forces are themselves shooting at, and dropping bombs on, someone — but who exactly that someone is, and whether or not both someones are the same, doesn't seem to be established with much clarity.
Likewise the amorphous struggle in Afghanistan, another country that U.S. forces seem to be at war in but not with. The situation in Afghanistan is slightly clearer, in that some of the hostile someones there can be named: the Taliban, al-Qaida. Yet America has not specifically or explicitly declared war on either of these entities. (Al-Qaida has, explicitly, declared war on us — I'm not sure why it is that we haven't returned the favor.)
Without a formal declaration of war President Bush is not really a "war president." He is an AUMF president. And that, I suspect, may be part of the problem.