Costliest government 'program' of all? Undeclared wars
Congress's habit of ignoring Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution has arguably cost taxpayers trillions. And now it seems to be happening again, with Obama's military action in Libya.
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But if those same Republicans had seriously honored the Constitution 10 years ago, they might have saved $4-to-6 trillion.
That’s the total estimated cost of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – wars that Congress putatively authorized but never formally declared. Article I, Section 8, is explicit: “The Congress shall have Power to ... declare War.” But to its discredit, Congress has failed the American people for more than half a century on this score.
And now it’s happening again, as the US began bombing Libya without a congressional declaration – or even a single hearing or debate.
It’s all well and good for tea party sloganeers and their Republican allies to gripe about budget deficits. But it smacks of political cowardice when they neglect to tell the American people that our habit of fighting undeclared wars may be our costliest government “program” of all.
The cost of wrongheaded wars
There is no more eloquent testimony that Iraq and Afghanistan were wrongheaded wars than Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s speech in February to the cadets at West Point. “In my opinion,” he said, “any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
Secretary Gates echoed the earlier lament of the late Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who left the Pentagon in 1968, midway through the Vietnam War, and who later admitted it was the mother of all foolhardiness.
In Vietnam, and later Iraq, our presidents misled us while the stampede to go to war might have been averted with a serious congressional debate before any resolution for a declaration of war.
President Johnson told Americans that unless they drew a line in Indochina, all of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes under the sway of a Vietnamese-Chinese axis.
Senate debate on Vietnam might have exposed flaws
A deliberate Senate debate might have exposed the flaws in that theory. There were no dominoes, and four years after American troops left Saigon, the Chinese and the Vietnamese were at war with each other.
Sadly, the Senate debated the Vietnam war only three years into that conflict. By that time it was too late. The US Senate prides itself on being the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” but its last really great debate was about civil rights in the 1960s.