Monday, September 5, 2011

Commander In Chief

Every couple of days, I get an email from Obama's campaign or run across an article by one of his supporters trying to convince me that he really is doing a good job. The reason he hasn't accomplished more, they say, is because the Republicans won't let him. The criticism he has been getting for having no spine and caving in at every chance is unfair, they say.

I agree that the Republicans have been deliberately hampering Obama. They announced a long time ago that they were going to. They didn't want him to succeed, and they have been eager to let the country suffer so that they could encourage the voters to blame Obama for the nation's troubles. That's politics in this country right now. It's a sad state of affairs, but it isn't anything new. We only have two parties, which for a long time has meant that failure by the party in power helps the fortunes of the party that is out of power.

What the President's apologists ignore, in blaming the Republicans in Congress, is that there are some things the President can do all by himself, without even asking Congress. One of those things is leading the military. Our Constitution says that the President is the commander in chief of the military. He can tell the military to do whatever he wants without having to get the consent of the Senate. One of the only real limitations on the President's power to command the military is that Congress, not the President, has the power to declare war, although that provision has been ignored for a long time. Also, the money to pay for the military must be appropriated by Congress, but once the money is appropriated, the president can send the military where he wants.

Most importantly, the President has the power to send the military home. He has the power to do what he promised to do when he was campaigning, which is to stop the wars. The Republicans, no matter how determined they might be to thwart the President for their own political purposes, and no matter how large a majority they might have in Congress, could not stop the President from stopping the wars. It's his call. Congress never declared the wars we are now waging, so it can't complain if he ends the wars. Congress may have appropriated money for the military, but it can't make the President spend it to continue the fighting.

I am sure Obama is frustrated by the way the Republicans – with the aid of a lot of Democrats – are acting. The whole country is frustrated with Congress. But Obama has no excuse for not doing what he can do on his own. Unless perhaps Obama is no longer capable of commanding the military because there has been a military coup and the military is commanding itself without Presidential interference. If that has happened, he should at least tell us.

Being in command of the military is an important part of the job of a president. It is on a very short list of powers that the Constitution delegates to the president. If Obama's supporters want the American people to think he is doing a good job of being president so that we will reelect him, they're going to have to explain why he isn't even doing one of the most important parts of his job. Or if they maintain that he really is in charge of the military, they are going to have to explain why he has ordered the military to do exactly what he told us he wouldn't have them do. So far we haven't heard that explanation.

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