June 28th, 2007


We Are Not At War

I'm sorry, I have to bust out with a rant again.

My friends have heard this one before. Any time the news comes on and even parenthetically mentions that we are at war, I go apeshit. "We are *not* at war," I declare emphatically. "Then explain all the bodies," somebody often replies.

No. Shut up. You are wrong, and you are hurting people. You are playing directly into the hands of those who believe that executive power should trump a government by and for the people. You are ceding control of the language that frames the discussion, and you should not do it without a fight.

What is war? For the United States of America, being at war means that the legislative branch has declared war. Only the legislative branch can declare war; the executive cannot. Once war is declared, it is the task of the Commander-in-Chief to execute that war. However, Congress gets to start it, and they get to finish it.

In recent years Congress has ceded some of its power to the President. It has given him fairly wide-reaching powers to go find bad people and whack them, following the reasoning that the legislative process moves extremely slowly and this doesn't work well when you're hunting Osama bin Laden. I personally feel this was a tremendously unwise move and we're going to all be feeling the effects for years to come, but that is beside the point.

The point is, while the President has been given a lot of power, he hasn't been given all of it. He has certainly not been given the power to declare a war.

And yet, we find ourselves in the situation where the Executive branch is justifying all manner of things because "we are at war", or this is "a wartime situation". Can we see your emails where you authorize the politicized firing of attorney generals? No, we're at war. Can we see documents related to your leaking the identity of a covert operative to the press? No, we're at war. How about documents that discuss how our current energy policy, which happens to favor Big Oil in an unprecendented manner, came to be enacted? Sorry, we're at war. Can we? Nope -- war. War, bitches!

Screw you guys. We are *not* at war. War is a state that the people of the United States of America agree to enter into, via our duly elected representatives. We don't enter into it lightly because war requires sacrifice. If you're going to go to war, you have to be willing to risk the lives of people you love. You have to be willing to give up some resources, and possibly some rights, in order to effectively combat a threat to the entire nation. We as a unified country need to agree to enter into a state of war. Only then can you start talking about how we need to give up this or ration that. Otherwise, we haven't agreed to anything.

If we don't get serious about insisting that War Powers are only invoked under extremly tightly constrained conditions, this is a slippery slope with no bottom. If Congress doesn't get to dictate whether or not we are at war, can the President state that we are just in an openended state of war for the remainder of his term, regardless of what conditions on the ground may be? When does he have to give back his unlimited powers? If your answer is "not until every person who hates America is dead or behind bars", then something in this system is broken. People are always going to hate America; that's no justification for becoming an authoritarian society.

I don't care what you call the condition we are in. You can call it a police action if you want. Or we are in a state of aggression, or something else. But I urge you: resist the temptation to say that we are at war. If somebody else tells you we are, confront them. If you don't challenge the notion that we are at war, then you can be attacked for being a bad citizen when you refuse to make wartime sacrifices.

A majority of Americans think the conflict in Iraq is bad and we should get out. A majority in Congress wants a timetable for withdrawal. If ever there were a situation where the President's wartime prerogatives should be revoked, it's now. Help the fight by shattering the illusion that we are at war. We're not. Our soldiers are fighting and dying; their willingness to fight and risk death for our country is noble and inspring -- but they are not fighting in a war, and as far as I am concerned they are only there because their rogue commander is defying the will of the people.

I hear conservative commentators say that our withdrawal from Iraq will only weaken our influence abroad. In a way, that would be a good thing. We shouldn't be entering into fights lightly. If we're going to roll into a country and take it over, we should make sure to declare war properly. Then, once we're in a war, we should throw all of our resources and will into winning, on sociopolitical and economic as well as military fronts. If this adventurism in Iraq discourages us from cowboy military action and makes the armed conflict option seem less attractive, hooray. The universe is working properly. It'll make us less likely to threaten military action. If anything, it'll let rogue states know that when we finally *do* send in the marines, we mean business.

We are not at war. Stop supporting the people who are trying to screw us by saying we are.