That was because Congress was considered to be the house of the people, while the country’s chief executive was more analogous to a monarch. Only the people could make the decision to go to war, and the entire nation would henceforth bear the consequences of that action, both in terms of providing the soldiers and sailors to do the fighting and paying the costs of the conflict.
Today’s American elite apparently sees things very differently. Mitt Romney wants to go to war to disarm Iran and even favors increasing the size of the Army and Navy to face the many threats that he perceives lurking to bring our republic down. Rick Santorum also wants war against the mullahs, as does Newt Gingrich, who is being bankrolled by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a man who openly puts Israel’s interests ahead of those of his own country. It does not matter whether these candidates for president are being honest in their opinions or are complete hypocrites. Whether they are arguing for conflict because they want to be on the good side of Israel or for no good reason at all, the bottom line is that they have absolutely nothing at stake if they should become president and start a war. None of the three has personally served in the U.S. military, and, even though they have 14 children among them, not one of their offspring has ever entered the armed forces. All three men are also multi-millionaires, Romney many times over, but all are on record as being against new taxes, even to pay for the wars that they are advocating.
In the world of insurance, a no-fault policy means that no one is to blame in an accident. Unfortunately, the doctrine has been adopted by America’s political leaders. No-fault means no accountability, which is precisely what we are seeing in the three leading Republicans, a tradition that certainly dates back to Bill Clinton if not before and that has been flourishing under George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama. No one has been punished in any way for the debacle of Iraq, which has been described rightly as the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States. The ticker is still running on that conflict, but it might have cost as much as $5 trillion,4,486 soldiers killed, and several hundred thousand dead Iraqis, nearly all civilians. Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of that war, was rewarded by being given the presidency of the World Bank, a position he could not continue to hold because of a lack of personal integrity. He is now ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute. He appeared recently on NPR and advocated arming the rebels in Syria, which suggests that some people never learn from their mistakes.
Under the current “progressive” administration in Washington, accountability has taken several steps backward. CIA torturers are not responsible for what they did, soldiers who massacre foreign civilians are protected or slapped on the wrist if they are punished at all, American citizens are assassinated, and drones kill suspects living in countries with which we are not at war. Recently, the president declared that he can take control of “all national resources” in case of an emergency, a sweeping dismissal of the right to property guaranteed by the Constitution. And if anyone challenges any of these abuses in court, the proceedings will be stopped by the government’s declaration of state-secrets privilege.
The nation’s leaders who have produced this endless series of wars that have enabled the dismantling of the Constitution would argue that their personal lack of involvement in the policies they craft is irrelevant. According to Romney and his five strapping sons, the United States has a professional Army, which makes it unnecessary for citizens to serve if they choose to do other things, like make money. And they might further add that tax policy is independent of foreign policy, which itself should be guided by national interests and “principles,” not subject to the personal concerns of any individuals or groups.
The argument in favor of the status quo is, from top to bottom, nonsense. Many soldiers in today’s Army are the products of a terrible economy, what Kipling described as uniforms being “starvation cheap.” It has become all too easy for the privileged to avoid sending their own children to serve. They choose to forget or ignore the old tradition that Americans have duties and responsibilities as citizens, which is rooted in the Constitution. A standing national army was eschewed by the Founders, but one of the civic duties was reflected in the right to bear arms to enable local militias to defend their homes and loved ones if there were a foreign threat that justified Congress declaring war. If there is no foreign threat serious enough to declare war in the proper fashion, an all-out conflict to the finish, there should be no war.
To put it another way, if Mitt Romney really believes the United States has to go to war with Iran, he should be the first one to volunteer his sons for combat duty. Likewise for Santorum’s seven children. In the Second World War, Washington’s last legally declared armed conflict, children of congressmen were not exempted and many congressmen themselves enlisted voluntarily. If our Republican wannabes really want to set a good example, they might consider enlistment for some close family members.
The tax issue is also bogus. America has been fighting a series of wars for the past 11 years on a credit card precisely because politicians are completely unwilling to recognize the consequences for their actions. They have allowed the federal deficit to balloon to the point where it now threatens to bring down the entire economy. Not to pick on Mitt in particular, but he has a quarter of a billion dollars sitting around. If he wants a war, tell him to write a check. Everyone who wants the war should get their checkbooks and pens out and start contributing.
And as for the noble foreign policy argument, the United States arguably was justified when it struck back at Afghanistan in December 2001, but that should have been the end of it. Overthrow the source of the threat and leave. And that should have been the last time American soldiers set foot in Asia, but, alas, it has not been so. Does anyone see any gain in what has been happening in the ensuing 11 years? U.S. foreign policy, which has been driven by vested interests and lobbies rather than by national interests and principles, has brought only death and ruin — and hatred that will endure long after our soldiers are gone.
Perhaps what is needed is a constitutional amendment, or perhaps a couple of amendments, restoring personal accountability to the process. Any war should be fully funded, for starters, so the American people will know exactly what they are committing themselves to do. And congressmen who vote to authorize a war should explain to the public how their own families will participate in it. If someone is starting a war, it should not be under the assumption that someone else will necessarily fight it. And finally, if a war is declared and it turns out that the government deliberately fabricated its case to produce the conflict, there perhaps should be a new statute, possibly dubbed the Treason Act, which spells out the criminal nature of the offense and prescribes penalties up to and including execution. The Nuremberg Trials affirmed that starting a war when there is no actual threat is the ultimate crime against humanity. Doing so while deliberately making a false case is even more vile. No one should be given a pass to escape the consequences.