When is a war not a war?

For the Fourth of July, the paper ran a profile of a man named Sergio who is studying to become a naturalized citizen.

The article included a series of sample questions from the naturalization test, and included a link to a practice Naturalization Self Test from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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?

A. Congress
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.

  • bulbul

    Questor, are you prepared for your new calling or do you just want to drop the whole thing and play bocce
    Upon reviewing your proposal, Master, and having spent a short time trying to live by the rules you have outlined (my own personal “rumprinsga” in the Right-wing world – listening to Rush Limbaugh for about 15 minutes, searching the darkest corners of my soul to find that deep harboured hatred towards Ukrainians – sorry, no Mexicans here – and alike), I have decided to withdraw my inquiry and take you up on that offer to play. Or pool. Snooker will do, too.

  • bulbul

    but doesn’t protect what you want banned (like guns, again for most liberals, despite the existence of an explicit 2nd amendment)
    Sigh. This would be the time to remind Scott that liberals do not want guns banned, merely regulated, and that the 2nd ammendment contains word “a well regulated militia…”. But why bother?

  • bulbul

    * contains the words. Stupid fingers, always faster than brain…

  • Duane

    Questor, are you prepared for your new calling or do you just want to drop the whole thing and play bocce
    Upon reviewing your proposal, Master, and having spent a short time trying to live by the rules you have outlined (my own personal “rumprinsga” in the Right-wing world – listening to Rush Limbaugh for about 15 minutes, searching the darkest corners of my soul to find that deep harboured hatred towards Ukrainians – sorry, no Mexicans here – and alike), I have decided to withdraw my inquiry and take you up on that offer to play. Or pool. Snooker will do, too.
    At least you tried. Next time, I recommend first getting jacked up on hydrocodone and sildenafil citrate.

  • Duane

    Questor, are you prepared for your new calling or do you just want to drop the whole thing and play bocce
    Upon reviewing your proposal, Master, and having spent a short time trying to live by the rules you have outlined (my own personal “rumprinsga” in the Right-wing world – listening to Rush Limbaugh for about 15 minutes, searching the darkest corners of my soul to find that deep harboured hatred towards Ukrainians – sorry, no Mexicans here – and alike), I have decided to withdraw my inquiry and take you up on that offer to play. Or pool. Snooker will do, too.
    At least you tried. Next time, I recommend first getting jacked up on hydrocodone and sildenafil citrate.

  • Scott

    Sigh. This would be the time to remind Scott that liberals do not want guns banned, merely regulated, and that the 2nd ammendment contains word “a well regulated militia…”. But why bother?
    Why do you think that amendment is the second one listed in the restrictions on federal power that were necessary as a compromise to get the constitution passed? What, exactly, do you think it guarantees that makes it important enough to be just after freedom of press, religion, and petition? Should I be able to buy the same (full auto capable) rifle the military uses w/o any federal involvement in the decision?
    It doesn’t say regulated by the fedgov and lots of liberals want pretty damn tight restrictions that are incompatible w/ a “right of the people”, a phrase (assuming you care about the mere text of the constitution) that would mean the same thing everywhere it shows up. A right of the people is a right of the people, even if those peole are NRA members.
    “Well-regulated militia” just meant an armed populace that had guns and knew how to use them. Would the phrase “A knowlegable citizenry, being essential to the security of a free state” in the first amendment allow you to regulate the content of free speech to ensure the ‘knowledge’ is deemed legit by the govt or would it be a mere truism stressing the importance of the right and thus rhetorical cover for expanding it?
    We all know liberals would expand the first but contract the second w/ equivalent preambles, because the whole point is squeezing what you want out of the text that’s already there, then claiming everyone has already consented to their latest Big Thing so they can STFU and submit.

  • cjmr’s husband

    Why do people think that the Bill of Rights is in priority order?

  • bulbul

    Why do people think that the Bill of Rights is in priority order?
    Probably for the same reason some of them think these are the ONLY rights protected by the Constitution.
    We all know liberals would expand the first but contract the second w/ equivalent preambles
    Oh goodie! The perfect opportunity to try the Oxycontine experiment Duane suggested!

  • Duane

    Haha.

  • Duane

    Haha.

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/002090.html Pacific Views

    Saturday’s Potpourri

    What happens when the Logic & Accuracy tests for automated voting machines are defective? Here’s a cautionary tale about why you should worry about even the OptiScan systems that record votes from an optical scan card. But even worse is…

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/002090.html Pacific Views

    Saturday’s Potpourri

    What happens when the Logic & Accuracy tests for automated voting machines are defective? Here’s a cautionary tale about why you should worry about even the OptiScan systems that record votes from an optical scan card. But even worse is…

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/002090.html Pacific Views

    Saturday’s Potpourri

    What happens when the Logic & Accuracy tests for automated voting machines are defective? Here’s a cautionary tale about why you should worry about even the OptiScan systems that record votes from an optical scan card. But even worse is…

  • http://www.pacificviews.org/weblog/archives/002090.html Pacific Views

    Saturday’s Potpourri

    What happens when the Logic & Accuracy tests for automated voting machines are defective? Here’s a cautionary tale about why you should worry about even the OptiScan systems that record votes from an optical scan card. But even worse is…

  • Scott

    Why do people think that the Bill of Rights is in priority order?
    Duck the question if you must, but (as a good liberal), please explain what the 2nd protects that justifies it being in the first 10 amendments (the ones required to limit the fedgov enough to get the damn thing ratified, that alone qualifies as “priority order”) and justifies the description of “necessary to the security of a free State”.
    Probably for the same reason some of them think these are the ONLY rights protected by the Constitution.
    They aren’t the only rights in the sense that the govt has to stay out of areas it isn’t delegated authority in. The GOP forbid-abortion law they want Congress to pass is unconstitutional because the constitution is silent on abortion, thus not delegating the fedgov any power there.
    You want to say that the govt gets to decide what rights we have or don’t have (by creating or not creating new ones), which turns a limit on govt into an empowerment of govt, as long as that govt is run by wonderful people such as yourself.

  • mds

    “Well-regulated militia” just meant an armed populace that had guns and knew how to use them.
    Oh, well, thank you for explaining how “well-regulated” doesn’t mean “well-regulated,” but merely “knowledgeable.” My Webster’s isn’t up to date with the Founders’ completely novel definition.
    And perhaps I’d make the same argument about freedom of speech and the press, if the First Amendment had the qualifier that you propose. But it doesn’t. I wonder why? I also wonder why President Washington didn’t act like he expected to encounter artillery during the Whisky Rebellion. After all, anyone was free to own a cannon and turn it on federal troops.
    But you know what? Even though I’m ex-NRA, I’ll concede the point. I’ll give up wondering why the Second Amendment is the only absolutely unlimited one, given that I can’t get away with shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater if I know there’s no fire. So feel free to keep tactical nuclear weapons in your basement, if it makes you feel so goddamn macho. But while you’re at it, stop feeling free to hand over a woman’s right to bodily autonomy to the tyranny of the majority, all because the Constitution doesn’t mention the word “abortion” anywhere. Or “school segregation.” Or “space shuttle.” In fact, what were the Federalists and Republicans arguing about in the 1790s? Why didn’t they just read that completely exhaustive list of rights and governmental powers, and go home? It couldn’t have been all the wiggle room that was deliberately introduced into the document, oh dear me no.

  • Djur

    >> Duck the question if you must, but (as a good liberal), please explain what the 2nd protects that justifies it being in the first 10 amendments (the ones required to limit the fedgov enough to get the damn thing ratified, that alone qualifies as “priority order”) and justifies the description of “necessary to the security of a free State”.
    Sorry to hop into a dead thread, but this needs to be answered:
    The individual states wanted an assurance that the federal government wouldn’t disarm their citizen militia. The constitution’s ratification wasn’t a process of the framers trying to get The People to agree to a specific balance of powers; rather, it was a fight between those who wanted federal power and those who wanted state power. This is abundantly clear in the historical record.

  • Djur

    >> Duck the question if you must, but (as a good liberal), please explain what the 2nd protects that justifies it being in the first 10 amendments (the ones required to limit the fedgov enough to get the damn thing ratified, that alone qualifies as “priority order”) and justifies the description of “necessary to the security of a free State”.
    Sorry to hop into a dead thread, but this needs to be answered:
    The individual states wanted an assurance that the federal government wouldn’t disarm their citizen militia. The constitution’s ratification wasn’t a process of the framers trying to get The People to agree to a specific balance of powers; rather, it was a fight between those who wanted federal power and those who wanted state power. This is abundantly clear in the historical record.

  • Fenix

    “the first amendment’s all fine and dandy, but it’s not what’s granting us our right to free speech – it’s just a confirmation.”
    And here I thought I was the only one who realized this…thanks for bursting my giant ego :(
    People these days–regardless of political affiliation–all too often talk about the rights “granted” by the constitution. The problem with this dichotomy is that it suggests that it’s the government that’s doing the granting, not, to quote the Declaration of Independence, “our Creator.” Likewise, this means the government is just as free to take it away, or that these rights only extend to naturalized citizens. I don’t have time to expand more on this thought, so I’ll leave _why_ this is a bad idea as an excercise for the reader.

  • Duane

    Questor, are you prepared for your new calling or do you just want to drop the whole thing and play bocce
    Upon reviewing your proposal, Master, and having spent a short time trying to live by the rules you have outlined (my own personal “rumprinsga” in the Right-wing world – listening to Rush Limbaugh for about 15 minutes, searching the darkest corners of my soul to find that deep harboured hatred towards Ukrainians – sorry, no Mexicans here – and alike), I have decided to withdraw my inquiry and take you up on that offer to play. Or pool. Snooker will do, too.
    At least you tried. Next time, I recommend first getting jacked up on hydrocodone and sildenafil citrate.
    Bulbul, some damn fool tried our experiment and wrote a book about it:
    http://politicalwire.com/archives/2006/10/08/conservatize_me.html


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X