Thursday :: Dec 21, 2006

The "Surge," the Constitution, and Gamesmanship

by dj moonbat

I think it’s important that we all keep in mind the ways in which this “surge” business, and the proposal that Bush has floated to enlarge the military, are distinct. The two have some interrelated aspects, which cannot be ignored, but there are important differences that have both legal and political implications.

The Surge

The “surge” that Bush seems to envision would happen soon. It would be, in essence, a version of the “Go Big” option that the ISG did not end up recommending. It would be done with troops that we already have, and as such would bear a lot of risk, because if it didn’t work—and work quickly—the pool of troops available for further rotations would be nearly empty, and what troops there were would be stressed badly from years of repeat tours.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution gives the President the authority to act as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Because the forces to be used in the surge are already in the armed forces, Bush thus has the unilateral authority to send those forces to Iraq. Congressional support, then, isn’t needed.

Democrats should distance themselves from the proposal because it’s a bad idea, but there is no sense in which they can prevent it from happening aside from making the President look bad. The spending power in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 would allow them simply to stop paying for the Iraq war, but that would be a very blunt instrument, and the public would not look kindly on such an attempt.

Enlarging the Army

Things are on a significantly different footing when we talk about longer-term plans to increase the size of the Army. The Constitution may give the president the power to command the armed forces, but Congress is given the power to raise armies. This means that if Bush wants a bigger Army, he has to ask Congress to make it so.

The fact that Congress has the power to stand in the way of a bigger army does not necessarily mean they should use it. As I noted in response to this post of Steve’s from the other day, they can hold some hearings which make Bush look very, very bad. At the end of those hearings, though, it might be best to enlarge our forces (assuming that enough volunteers can even be found) to relieve the inordinate stress the Iraq war has inflicted on the Army.

But Wait!

Of course, I would be a complete idiot to think that if the military were enlarged, Bush would stick with the advice of the Joint Chiefs and use the added capacity to shore up what’s already been damaged. Naturally, he would do the stupidest, most hostile thing he could with the added troops. It’s in his nature. So any vote for a bigger Army is, in a sense, a vote for a bigger Army in Iraq.

Here’s where the gamesmanship comes in. It takes time to recruit and train these extra troops, and time is running out on the Bush presidency. The calculation then becomes a question of how confident the Democratic members of Congress are that the White House in 2009 will be in safer hands. If John McCain is running the show by then, it seems safe to predict that the war would be escalated in yet another One Last Effort. But if somebody less crazy is in charge, those added troops would allow us to taper off the Iraqi occupation with fresher boots on the ground.

In general, my inclination is to support the increase in military size and to oppose the surge (even if surge opposition is simply symbolic). But there are clearly risks to that path. The thing is, the occupation isn’t going to stop now unless we defund it (in which case the public will turn on us). So we need to be thinking about the military as it will be in 2009, both the troops and who will be commanding them.

dj moonbat :: 10:39 AM :: Comments (24) :: Digg It!