August 29, 2013

U.K. still has constitutional government

From the NYT:
Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain would not participate militarily in any strike against Syria after he lost a parliamentary vote on Thursday on an anodyne motion urging an international response by 13 votes.
It was a stunning defeat for a government that had seemed days away from joining the United States and France in a short, punitive cruise-missile attack on the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons against civilians. 
Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in a short statement to Parliament afterward, Mr. Cameron said that he respected the will of Parliament and that it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action over Syria. “I get it,” he said. 
The government motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272.

In contrast, the United States Congress hasn't bothered to exercise its Constitutional responsibility to declare war on anybody that the U.S. has gone to war with since WWII. It's just so much more pleasant for members of Congress to delegate the decision to go to war to the Executive Branch, while they go around passing laws (e.g., criminal sentence lengths) usurping state powers.

(Some of the sub-Declaration of War debates in Congress, notably the close, hard-fought one before the 1991 Gulf War, were pretty good. But, still ...)

61 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem is the definition of war.

Korean War did begin as a war, and US got involved in a big war, and Congress should have done something. But no war was officially declared.

But Vietnam slowly sneaked up on the US policy. US began escalating and getting more involved piecemeal by piecemeal, and eventually US was in a real war. A real war was something US had hoped to avoid. It thought by getting more and more engaged with South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese could be held back. But as things got rougher, US finally felt the need to go full in. But as US was already half in, it was never clear exactly when that war began.

Not every use of military force by the US is an act of war in the technical sense. Reagan's invasion of Grenada was too swift to count as much of a war. His punitive strike on Libya wasn't really a war but an act of retaliation.

Gulf War, Afghan War, and Iraq War were really wars.
US involvement in Libya was technically enforcement of no fly zone and aiding our European allies. Tricky to call.

If we just lob some missiles into Syria to send a message, that might not count as war. If we declare war, it means we gotta get involved all the way. We have to win, cuz if not, we technically lose or at least lose face big time.

But if we don't declare war, we can do some fighting and then pull out if things don't go well. Since it hasn't officially been declared as war, we don't technically lose.
It's like Reagan pulled out of Lebanon, but since US hadn't declared war going in, the retreat wasn't seen as defeat.

So, Congress is loathe to declare war since if it does, US has to go all the way and win. For a nation of America's stature and power to declare war and not win would be embarrassing.

Was the Cold War a war? Should that have been declared? Though US and USSR didn't engage on the battlefield, they fought proxy wars and circled one another with military might to prepare for possible war. 'Peace' is war by other means. Cuban Missiles Crisis came close to warlike actions, with the navies of both nations in position for full war. But good thing nothing was declared. And even if fighting had broken out between US and USSR navies, maybe neither side should have declared war since when a nation declares war, it basically means 'we are all in to defeat you', and that means no going back. It would have been better in 1914 if the great powers had fought one another for awhile without declaring war. If the powers learned that all this fighting was causing more trouble, they all could have called it quits. But since they all officially declared war, they had go all the way to win, and that meant no going back.

And there's been some shooting back and forth between North and South Korea and between China and Taiwan without each side declaring war. So, military action is possible without declaration of war. Problem of declaring war is you then have no choice but to go all out and win... or lose face.
One advantage of US not declaring war in Korea was that it could go for a ceasefire and not lose face. If US had declared war on N. Korea and China, there would have been far greater pressure to go all out to win.

Politics.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Cameron is actually relieved.
This way, he can have the cake and eat it too. He can show his US allies/masters that he did try but the parliament denied him the request.
Maybe he really doesn't want to get involved. But as he's basically a stooge of neocons and liberal Zionists, he can still say he tried his best.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, the UK doesn't actually have a constitution.

Anonymous said...

"Ironically, the UK doesn't actually have a constitution."

They don't have one but have a procedural system.
We have a constitution but it means nothing.

A Working Class American said...

groan.

Whether or not a country has a constitution is not the crux of the issue, but rather how accountable the politicians are to the people.

The UK has a parliamentarian form of govt. That means that the lower house there (house of commons) has the power. They can dump the prime minister via a vote of no confidence.

The real measure of the worth of a system of govt is how it represents the people, not whether there is a constitution.

If the govt is not held accountable to the people through a structure of govt that is designed to do so, the constitution is worthless. The lower house in parliamentarian systems is filled with politicians from small voting districts, who are therefore more accountable to their electorate than if they were elected from large districts.

This is all very basic political theory, which is however not taught in america. I wonder why....



Bud said...

On the subject of the New York Times, check out the headline for this story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/opinion/bomb-syria-even-if-it-is-illegal.html?_r=2

Robert Simmons Bevington IV said...

The U.K. does NOT have constitutional government. It is a leftist, politically-correct tyranny that forbids the most basic freedoms.

Anonymous said...

The Authorization of Military Force resolutions were constitutional exercises of Congress' war powers. There's nothing in the constitution that says the magic words "we declare war" must be written. Congress can say "we authorize the President to invade and change the government of Canada" without the magic words and that's a constitutional exercise of Congress' role.

Semi-employed White Guy said...

Steve, do you really think any of those "pretty good" "sub-Declaration of War debates in Congress" were anything other than political theater? I don't. The fix was in every time. Hell, even BHO voted against Iraq, but look at him now. He's become the spitting image of Billy Krystol.

Alat said...

Not every use of military force by the US is an act of war in the technical sense. Reagan's invasion of Grenada was too swift to count as much of a war. His punitive strike on Libya wasn't really a war but an act of retaliation. [...]. US involvement in Libya was technically enforcement of no fly zone and aiding our European allies. Tricky to call. If we just lob some missiles into Syria to send a message, that might not count as war.

What a load of bullsh*t. If Grenada had invaded the United States instead of the other way around, would it be an act of war? If Libya did "punitive strikes" on Washington, would it be an act of war? If Libya enforced a no-fly zone over the east coast of the U.S., would it be an act of war? If Syria lobbed some missiles (or some hijacked civilian airplanes) into New York City to "send a message", would it be an act of war?

To ask the question is to answer it.

anony-mouse said...

Constitutionally Obama is the Commander-In-Chief.

In the UK the Commander-in-Chief is an 87 year old grandmother who really doesn't look like Helen Mirren.

Anonymous said...

In the UK the Commander-in-Chief is an 87 year old grandmother who really doesn't look like Helen Mirren.

More like Commander-in-Queef amirite?

tony said...

The good news is that the Brits' recalcitrance will make it harder for Obama to act alone. I'd be stunned if he acted unilaterally, since his party's whole mindset is predicated on multilateralism.

Of course, his hawk turn HAS been pretty comprehensive, so I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Well said Steve. I don't know what the guys in DC are thinking anymore, (if I ever did).

My guess is that Obama wants his *war* or whatever, now that he's in office, and this is such a good opportunity - Hassad is ugly and I heard something about chemical weapons. And hey, it should be a short little thing. A righteous victory for a righteous man? We libs aren't pushovers....

Maybe the damn hippies had a point. Except their now McCain clones or something. Good lord. The world is upside down.

Auntie Analogue said...


The UK doesn't have a constitution, but their elect and judiciary do refer to exercises of ministerial power and proposed acts of Parliament as being constitutional or unconstitutional. Why? Because the aggregate of all the laws enacted, over the centuries, by Parliament plus the sum of all precedent in governing constitute the basis on which their government governs.

The problem in the UK is that the entire political class has divorced itself from the citizenry and thus also from the interests and will of the citizenry. We here in the U.S. suffer from the same problem, to which has been added the increasing arrogation of increasingly absolute power by - and to - the executive.

Under the UK's parliamentary system a ruling party and its prime minister can be removed from power by a no-confidence vote in Parliament or by popular vote in a called (unscheduled) election, or even come to pass as a result of by-elections of MP's which alter the parties' numbers and proportion of parliamentary seats. Here in the U.S. the rigid, fixed term of executive has granted the president and his administration a four-year sinecure, while in the UK the ruling parties (and its PM) enjoy no such guaranteed tenure.

Whiskey said...

This is ALL about Obamas ego. He told Assad not to use chemical weapons and it looks as though he maybe might have. So Obamas ego means we bomb and missile Syria but not enough so Russia or Iran react or Assad is removed according to Amin officials! Yes. We bomb them but not too little so "Obama is mocked" but not too much so Assad is gone or Iran does something.

Obama can't or won't even address the nation and make his case.

Syria btw is a no win situation. Assad and Iran are bad, so is AQ.

Obama is weak, vacillating erratic. And a threat to the nation. He should be impeached.

Kibernetika said...

It's difficult to imagine the US backing off from its publicly stated intention of replacing Assad with [something, some pseudo-democratic facade]. Behind the scenes, the Western attacks will continue at the same or increased intensity.

It's really sad to think of the young American spec ops guys who are training the local fundamentalist, jihadist-type operatives, most of whom won't last a year. Our best guys would be better off studying French, maybe ending up in post-colonial Africa, you get the idea ;)




Anonymous said...

Cameron will find a way to ensure his AQ/MB buddies get the help they need.

After all, what's the SAS for if not for violent subterfuge?

Anon.

Anonymous said...

"If we just lob some missiles into Syria to send a message, that might not count as a war".

Typical American mentality. What if Syria decided to "just lob" (I like that word "lob", as if firing missiles of death, is the same thing as a game of softball) some missiles into the USA? Would that count as a war? What if Serbia were to drop bombs on America for 78 days like the USA did to her? Would that count as a war? I'm pretty sure it felt like a war to the people who were being killed and maimed.

This mentality reminds me of the Gulf war. The bombing of Baghdad was in progress and various pilots of different nationalities were being interviewed by the press. The European pilots all expressed concern about civilian casualties and were very restrained in their talking. In contrast the American pilots were all gung-ho and excited, talking enthusiastically about "lighting up Baghdad like a Christmas tree".

Anonymous said...

Its interesting how difficult it was for FDR to get the USA into WW2. The roadblock was congress which then took its responsibilities seriously. He finally succeeded by maneuvering Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor.

It would have been so easy for him today with what congress is now.

Anonymous said...

Obama is going to war because 1) Samantha Power wrote on an article about "Responsibility to Protect", which no one outside of a few Foreign Policy readers ever read or cares about and 2) Obama misspoke calling chemical weapons a "red line", thinking Assad would never use them. And so we blunder on with no Constitutional authority at all. Because Samantha and Obama do not want to be embarrassed by a question from a reporter who may be reporting on Miley Cyrus tomorrow. Insane.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to the US constitutional system, Cameron is a weak leader of a party that doesn't trust him in a coalition with a party that despises him.

By contrast, the Dems control one House of Congress and regard their beloved leader as greater than Almighty God.

...and, of course, God is not bound by anything so vulgar as a constitution.

Whitehall said...

Are the French in or out?

Or are they in only if no Frenchmen have to fight nor pay for it.

Maybe the Saudis expected the West and Russia to dance to their tune?

There is a LOT we don't know about Syria, the Mideast, and our game there.

Anonymous said...

"anonymous" said:

"The problem is the definition of war."

You're right, and you're part of the problem. The Korean "war," and the following "wars" were not wars. They were police actions.

A bona fide war is one in which the defeat of the enemy in the shortest time possible is the goal, which is either accomplished, or not.

A real war includes the goal of not only winning, but bringing your opponents to their knees, immediately after which they do what they're told. You rapidly, collectively change their hearts and minds.

See "WWI" and "WWII".

By contrast, a "Police Action" is akin to placing a "roach motel" in the vicinity of your opponent, not to annihilate them, but to control them, yet you do not necessarily change their hearts and minds, and usually don't.

The "secret bombings" of the Nixon administration simply moved within the gray area between a police action and a state of war. It was quite effective in bringing the Viet Namese to the bargaining table without their usual games. The closer we got to all out war, the more the North began to fold, yet it remained a "police action."

We could have won a war against the North Vietnamese in two months. All we had to do was carpet bomb Hanoi, and other strategic targets until they begged us to stop. The ramifications of that action is another issue. The point is, North Vietnam, and North Korea, didn't "win" a war against the United States, because we were initiating a police action, not a war.

And needless to say, a couple of nuclear warheads dropped on either country would have put a big wet blanket on their party. Again, the ramifications being a separate issue.

So that's why saying "the us was only half in," or "we never declared a war" is specious and unproductive.

The question is should police actions continue, or should we adopt a policy of either declaring a war, to be won, by the above definition, and staying out of most geopolitical police actions, or at least not unless most of the rest of the world is willing to participate, so we don't have to process the political/emotional baggage for the next few generations because some goof of a president decided to launch a "limited attack" on some bunch of islamic hillbillies who are fighting because somebody molested somebody else's prophet 1000 years ago.

I think wars are great. Wars get the world back on track towards cohesion. Police actions just prolong the inevitable that will happen without a good clarifying war. So why bother with the confusion and expense of them?

Paul Ciotti said...

Even if one believes (as many conservatives and Israel partisans do) that Obama technically doesn't have to get congressional authorization to lob missiles at Syria, what's the harm in doing so anyway? That congress might not approve the use of force?

When have they ever done that? Congress is full of people like John McCain, who never saw a war they didn't want us to be involved in. Besides, as far as I can see, there's no need to rush into anything.

Syria is not going to use chemical weapons again any time soon, not while the whole world is watching. So why not call congress back, like the British prime minister did with parliament, and ask for a vote? Is Obama (and his pro-war constituency) that afraid of democracy?

Mr. Anon said...

"A Working Class American said...

The real measure of the worth of a system of govt is how it represents the people, not whether there is a constitution."

Spoken like a true nitwit, which you demonstrate yourself to be with every post you make. What if "The People" decide that you and yours should be sent to a forced labor camp, or that you should be liquidated? Will you go and be glad of it? As Jonah Goldberg once put it, democracy is a system in which 51% of the people can vote to pee in the other 49%'s cornflakes.

And by the way, stop lecturing the rest of us as if you have some especially different and valuable insight, or anything of interest to relate. You don't.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that the god-awful Tony Blair mightily f*cked-up by being George W. Bush's bitch - and embroiling Britain in two disatrous futile wars that had no British interest.
That fact has soured the British appetite for so-called 'ethical global interventionism' - you know that brand of bullshit, (along with immigrationism, globalization etc), that really took hold amongst 'clever' people, (ie tossers who take 'The Economist' seriously), in the late 90s early 2000s.
Basically we are seeing a return to gold ol' fashioned British values ie "who gives a shit about a bunch of wogs?". The type of attitude that along with the judicial use of public school engendered guile and cunning made Britain great.

Auntie Analogue said...


Sailermates, would one of you kindly show me where in our Constitution is the Responsibility To Protect Amendment?

Never mind.

After all, none of our Dear Rulers mind either.

Petey said...

"Basically we are seeing a return to gold ol' fashioned British values ie "who gives a shit about a bunch of wogs?". The type of attitude that along with the judicial use of public school engendered guile and cunning made Britain great."

Um, wasn't Britain the country that spent untold billions trying to civilize and Christianize half the globe?

Anonymous said...

Parliament has no constitutional authority over declarations of war in Britain. It's a royal prerogative, ie. at the government and therefore the Prime Minister's discretion.

On the other hand, no one really cares about Syria so Cameron doesn't want to look bad ignoring Parliament's non-binding statement of opinion. His re-election prospects are looking shaky enough as it is.

---

btw, the real reason no one declares war anymore is that the UN has effectively outlawed declaring war. In principle you can declare war in response to an act of war committed against you, or if authorised by the UN. Neither of those are true here, but even when they are, there's little advantage and a lot of legal/PR risk in being the first side to declare a war. So no one does.

Nomen est Omen said...

It has constitutional government occasionally. But the ever-growing vibrancy of the UK is not something we so-called white so-called British were ever consulted about. And that's a much more important subject than Syria, whose rich multi-cultural and mult-racial tapestry we couldn't match in the 1950s:

Canvassing in the Handsworth area of Birmingham back in 1983, I was flummoxed by one voter. She stood before her considerable house in an area that had once been firmly middle-class. Now the villas around her had been converted into bedsits, and the locality had become scruffy and rundown. She was, apparently, now the only white resident in the street. She asked me when she had ever been given the chance to vote for or against Britain’s becoming multiracial. Since I could not answer that, she wanted to know why she should vote at all.

http://www.michaelportillo.co.uk/articles/art_nipress/immigration_sep07.htm

Londoner said...

Britain does have a constitution - it doesn't have a piece of paper called "The Constitution", however. On balance I would prefer if if we did, probably, but there is rarely much debate about whether a certain act is constitutional or not. Nothing is new under the sun.

Yesterday's debate and vote in the House of Commons were pleasing affairs - Cameron, Hague and their minions are card-carrying (if somehow half-hearted - they lack Blair's reptilian ruthlessness and religious fervour) Neocon-atlanticist-interventionist-imperialists who crave 'their war' (fought with other people's sons of course) before they are kicked out of office. They want adventure, and of course to please the zionist lobby of which they are thralls, and to see them denied by a process of sober and statesmanlike parliamentary debate (I recommend watching it if you can find it somewhere) and democratic voting, for once along the lines of public opinion, is a rare treat. Few took Cameron seriously before this and none will now.

Anonymous said...

The hpocrisy of the West is breathtaking.

Lest we forget, it was a mere fortnight ago that armed thugs gunned down in the streets in cold blood many hundreds of protestors whose only crime was to rail against the usurpation of power from a democratically elected government that had the popular mandate, by blood-thirsty monsters of phallic tin-pot dicators wearing general caps.(What is is with Arabs and the ultimate phallicism of a general's cap? - latin Americans have the same instinct too).

But the huuman beings gunned down like dogs in the street that day had a few salient characteristics. They were male, they were middle aged or above, they were bearded, they were muslims. Now, I've got no time for islamism, but as I've heard it endlessly pontificated by the pricks who have f*cked-up the West in the last few decades so-called 'human rights' are *te* paramount 'western value' and thus dog-shit like the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into British law. The so-called 'right to life' is held to be the most paramount of the paramount and the left-wingers, 'The Economist' tossers/wankers perform little keening dances of sorry, gnash teeth, wail, rent clothes whenever the precious little consciousnesses are pricked by 'the right of life' being taken away.

But if you're ugly, bearded and an Egyptian muslim, you're 'right to life' counts for jack-shit amongst the tossers.

Just saying it how it is - don't let anyone fool you otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I think this shows one of the hidden advantages of the former system where Navy captains had the authority to do as they saw fit with their warships and were accountable to Congress for their actions after the fact. In early US history the President would not have even gotten involved... If some local despot irritated the patrolling captain enough bad things might happen to him but it tended to stay as a grudge match between the Navy and him without the US being seriously involved.

Anonymous said...

while they go around passing laws (e.g., criminal sentence lengths) usurping state powers.

Catch me up: I googled variants of this subject and couldn't find any examples of federal legislation (as opposed to judicial decrees) telling states what their prison terms ought to be. To what are you referring?

irishman said...

This isn't quite the end of the story. Cameron can do whatever he wants under the royal prerogative including taking UK to war.

Thorfinnsson said...

Sailer displays complete ignorance of the British constitutional tradition.

The power to declare war is a prerogative power of the monarch and is not exercised by Parliament. Cameron's statement that he intended to respect the Parliamentary vote meant he did not intend to ignore Parliament and request the Queen to declare war, as is traditional.

Ceding the power of war to Parliament is part of the Americanization of British politics and an innovation of Tony Blair, who behaved like an American President rather than a British Prime Minister.

As for America, for some reason parts of the American spectrum fetishize in scholastic fashion the very word "war" itself. Prior to Obama, Congress always authorized military action with legislation. This not a postwar innovation either and dates back to the quasi-war with France.

Obama is the first President to actually prosecute unconstitutional wars. His war with Libya completely violated the War Powers Act and by extension the Constitution.

Doubtless this comment will be ignored and people will continue to fetishize the word war rather than focusing on legislative authorization.

Chicago said...

Why are chemical weapons always talked of as being the ultimate red line? Gas attacks have been used since WW I. Meanwhile, the western countries have arsenals that include cluster bombs, 2000 lb blockbuster bombs, Agent Orange, depleted uranium shells and the ultimate of all WMD, nuclear weapons. All of which we've used when it suited us.
The fire was set by the US, along with the Saudis and others, deciding to destroy the Syrian state by supplying and training the various rebel groups. None of them seem to be good candidates for taking control of Syria; chaos and massive killing, along with waves of refugees, would be the probable result. It's best that they be defeated, as seems to be happening. The current outburst seems to be a hissy-fit about their scheme being thwarted. Despite all the grandiose rhetoric about R2P and human rights one can see how little regard for human life all these politicians really have when they embark upon these cynical adventures.

Bill said...


And by the way, stop lecturing the rest of us as if you have some especially different and valuable insight, or anything of interest to relate. You don't.

. . . says the man who just favorably quoted Jonah Goldberg . . .

James Kabala said...

Interestingly, in Britain, Parliament does not have the legal power to declare war! It remains the power of the monarch. (The titular speech in the Colin Firth movie was not just to pump up the nation; it was to legally announce the declaration of war.) Of course, in modern times the monarch would never declare war unless told to do so by the prime minister, and the prime minister would not act if he thought he might lose a vote in Parliament (as Cameron has lost one), but still, the U.S. Framers were deliberately avoiding the British precedent by giving the power to Congress, not the executive.

That does lead to the follow-up question - when was the last time Britain declared war? Has Elizabeth II ever done so? Were Suez, the Falklands, or the Iraq Wars declared wars, or did Britain avoid the term as the U.S. did?

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/opinion/bomb-syria-even-if-it-is-illegal.html?_r=2

Israelize US foreign policy.

Anonymous said...

"The fact is that the god-awful Tony Blair mightily f*cked-up by being George W. Bush's bitch - and embroiling Britain in two disatrous futile wars that had no British interest."

He was US's poodle in Bosnian War, and it paid off handsomely, so he tried to repeat the success by siding with US on Iraq, and so many people thought it was gonna be a cakewalk.
In the first few months, Chirac regretted not tagging along, and he tried desperately to woo the US so that France would get a piece of the pie in Iraq. But when things got bad, Chirac looked good and Blair looked bad.
History is funny that way.
It repeats itself in not repeating itself.
It's like David O Selznick had a huge hit with GONE WITH THE WIND and thought to do the same with DUEL IN THE SUN, but it bombed.

Paul Mendez said...

Whether or not a country has a constitution is not the crux of the issue, but rather how accountable the politicians are to the people.

By that standard, the United States has been steadily improving since 1789, and has never had a better form of government than it has today. All that's left to do is eliminate the Electoral College, give felons the vote and adopt a nationwide California-style ballot initiative process, and the US will finally be the Nirvana for Working Class Americans our Founding Fathers meant it to be.

Art Deco said...

Please note John Yoo's brief commentary on this subject. It is his contention that the influence Congress has and was originally understood to have was through the appropriations process, not the formal declaratory power. Congress appropriated the money for both Korea and VietNam. The Gulf Wars were authorized by a resolution.

Gottfried Dietze offered a proposal some decades ago that a smaller body meeting in camera might be granted war powers via constitutional amendment as a means of reducing presidential discretion that had arisen due to the problematic competence of Congress in the post-war period.

Please note that there were 30 state referenda prohibiting the recognition of male couplings as 'marriages' and yet we are still being foisted with this policy. That (and Roe v. Wade) is the clearest indicator that "constitutional government" is a pantomime which covers the arrogated rule by Alvin Gouldner's New Class. Couple that with the scandal of the U.S. Senate, the scandal of Congress generally, the incapacity of the co-ordinate branches to co-operate even minimally, the election of lawn furniture to the presidency, and the manifest absence of patriotism of the bulk of the political class, and you can see the whole system is just illegitimate.

Art Deco said...

Parts of the occidental world have been here before - Spain in 1934, Uruguay in 1973, Argentina in 1976. The workout was pretty gruesome in each case.

Anonymous said...

The AUMF for the Second Iraq War counts as a "declaration of war" in all but name, so that war was constitutional. These attacks on Libya are Syria are not.

Anonymous said...

"What a load of bullsh*t. If Grenada had invaded the United States instead of the other way around, would it be an act of war? If Libya did "punitive strikes" on Washington, would it be an act of war? If Libya enforced a no-fly zone over the east coast of the U.S., would it be an act of war? If Syria lobbed some missiles (or some hijacked civilian airplanes) into New York City to "send a message", would it be an act of war?

To ask the question is to answer it." - The thing here Alat, is that a congressional declaration of war imposes several restrictions on America, and grants greater power to the executive to prosecute such a war. It would not be a particularly good thing for Syria or Libya were war declared on them.

Anonymous said...

That said, we should either declare war or not get involved.

Anonymous said...

As Jonah Goldberg once put it, democracy is a system in which 51% of the people can vote to pee in the other 49%'s cornflakes.


Libertarian claptrap. Goldberg likes a system in which an elite (an elite dominated by people like him) calls all the shots and the majority do what they are told.

I'll take a system in which 51% of the people can vote to pee in the other 49%'s cornflakes over the one we actually have, in which 10% of the people can decide they want to pee in in the 90%'s cornflakes.

Philip Neal said...

The United Kingdom has a constitution in the sense that executive, legislature and judiciary have various different powers, but since the legislature can pass any law, the other two branches exercise their powers at its pleasure and there is no separate category of constitutional law.

Cameron's actions are something of a mystery, since he could probably have attacked Syria using executive powers. Instead, he whipped up an atmosphere of crisis ("Now for the news headlines. And Parliament has been recalled... Now for the news headlines. And the National Security Council is meeting..."), submitted a United Nations resolution which he knew would be vetoed and called a vote without doing the electoral arithmetic. If he wanted to end up looking like the Grand Old Duke of York he certainly went the right way about it. Can anybody think of a plausible conspiracy theory?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. The USA FIGHTS wars, but it doesn't DECLARE wars. The USA has declared no war since 1941, but has fought many wars. Note how Johnson went to Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf resolution. It was as many commentators said, a
Functional declaration of war". But Johnson didn't ask for an ACTUAL declaration of war. I believe North Vietnam actually did declare war against the USA, but still the USA didn't actually declare war. Very strange. Is Washington AFRAID to declare war?

Alat said...

The thing here Alat, is that a congressional declaration of war imposes several restrictions on America, and grants greater power to the executive to prosecute such a war. It would not be a particularly good thing for Syria or Libya were war declared on them.

This is irrelevant for the point I was making. I actually agree with you on this; and not this has not the slightest bearing on whether it's a war or not.

Mr. Anon said...

"Bill said...

. . . says the man who just favorably quoted Jonah Goldberg . . ."

I seldom agree with Goldberg, and don't like most of his positions, but I don't mind quoting him when he's right, as he was in that case.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

I'll take a system in which 51% of the people can vote to pee in the other 49%'s cornflakes over the one we actually have, in which 10% of the people can decide they want to pee in in the 90%'s cornflakes."

I would prefer neither of those options. I preferred the old American system in which rights were codified in law, not subject to popular whim, and society's elites weren't hostile to the founding stock of this country.

Hey, people here quote Marx all the time, when it suits. If they can quote Marx, surely I can quote Goldberg just once. It was a pithy quote, so I quoted it. And having quoted it, I gave due attribution.

Anonymous said...

Good God!

None other than Michael Portillo, (ex-MP), reads this blog.

....and think of all the crap i've posted here over the years.

(One of your more lunatic, profane, prolific and hysterical commenters).

Anonymous said...

Alat,

Whether Grenada was constitutional in the American context or not, it was not an act of war against Grenada in international law. The US took care to secure the endorsement of the invasion from the Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon, by that point in the island's ongoing factional fight the only indisputable lawful office holder, and the lawful holder of all the Crown's prerogative powers in the absence of a lawfully appointed Prime Minister and Government.

So, no war in international law, possibly no need of Congress acting either. I'm quite sure of the former, speculating on the latter.

James Kabala, Thanks for summarizing, as other subsequently did, the British picture. In all Commonwealth realms, the Sovereign declares war on the advice of the Ministers. No government has ever conceded that parliament declares war or that a debate or vote is necessary. All debates are advisory. One might imagine that a greater degree of democratization in recent times has increased the practical powers of parliament in this regard, and in practical terms this is likely the case. But the debates are still advisory, and the question carefully framed. And the custom is in fact not new. This is where the Westminster system, so dominated by an executive when it commands a majority, also shows the domination of the legislature in the sense that the executive is in power only so long as it commands that majority. Because it can in theory be turfed at any time, and in Britain ministries have been ejected mid-war before [in Australia, even the ruling party changed in the middle of WW2], questions of war and peace have always been put to parliament for such debates, and the results of those debates affect decisions.

Britain has not, I believe, declared war since 1939-45. But then, the British system does not require all uses of military force to be part of a war. In this, the US was until recent times a bit of an outlier. Traditional European powers might have been quite ginger about using conscripts, but professional regular troops were until VERY recently presumed available and at the Crown's service at all times and all perils. That's why they are regulars. It was possible to put troops on "active service" for the purpose of pay and benefits whether or not "war" had been declared.

The 19th century is illustrative. Britain was more or less always at war, usually against petty princes and tribes somewhere. Some but not likely all of these involved the Crown announcing a state of war with so and so. Most probably did not. Only European powers would be guaranteed such courtesies.

That attitude may have lingered a bit into the postwar system. Suez was really a post-colonial police action, but Eden presented Nasser as though he were a new Hitler [absurd, in retrospect], and I believe a parliamentary debate endorse his policy, but I don't recall war being declared. But again, why would it be? Nobody assumed that all uses of troops had to be a declared war. THe Falklands also involved a debate on sending a task force, but no war was declared on Argentina. Although the "Exclusion zone" around the Falklands was never stated to be the only zone of operations, the absence of war was one issue when the RN sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano outside it.

I don't recall what Britain did for the first Gulf War. I expect a debate was held.

vinteuil said...

Is "Nomen et Omen" really Michael Portillo? Or did he just neglect to put quotation remarks around his second paragraph?

At any rate, the cited essay by Portillo is quite interesting.

Anomaly UK said...

It's not so much a matter of "constitutionality" as of Cameron choosing to accede to parliamentary demands as a political calculation.

(Probably it is the result of an error on his part; he hinted he would follow the result believing he would win the vote with Labour support, then Milliband changed his mind under pressure from his party, leaving Cameron stranded)

You could call it a victory for democracy, if you were so inclined, but not so much for constitutionality.

neil craig said...

I'm pleased, as a Brit, that Steve and commenters here recognise how this came about.

Now Obama has remembered that the US Constitution requires Congressional approval to declare war. I think this is a very good development. The framers certainly intended this because they feared an "imperial" presidency as incompatible with a free republic.

Noticeable by its absence from the list of undeclared wars is Clinton's Kosovo war. Unquestionably a war of the old fashioned sort he even managed to evade the after 3 months a police action is a war, rule and kept on bombing on behalf of the obscene KLA.

Paradoxically Britain does not have a formal duty to consult Parliament but we appear, in practice which is all our constitution is, to now be adopting the official US limitation. We have refused to join the US in a war because we have adopted the US constitutional limit, which feels strange but good.

Philip Neal said...

Second thoughts: oh, of course. Cameron threw the vote deliberately, or at least contrived to appear the prisoner of circumstance. An unpopular war must be seen not to be his idea.

Heads I win: Britain has stood shoulder to shoulder... Sorry contrast with Iraq... The Leader of the Opposition is to be congratulated... Where were the faint-hearted...

Tails you lose: Specified terms of engagement... I warned at the time ... The recall of Parliament was an Opposition demand...

Heads you lose: The best of news... The democracies... The western alliance... Syria to the family of nations...

Tails I win: Mr President, we are a constitutional democracy... He flip-flopped... I agree with Nick...

This is the man who defeated proportional representation and granted the vote to Scottish 16 year olds for reasons of electoral advantage. Now he would have us believe that members of the cabinet missed the vote on Syria because his party machine was incompetent. Come off it.

Simon in London said...

Britain has always had Crown Prerogative not Constiutional Government. BUT as the ruler is the Prime Minister not the Head of State, and his power derives from his ability to command a majority in Parliament, there is a sort of accountability the US President/Supreme Court duomvirate lacks.

In this case I think we see a reaction to the appalling abuses of the Blair regime. Also to their credit the UK population have consisently opposed war with Syria despite the usual media lies; after Iraq "Won't get fooled again!" is the refrain of the day.