David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

The Separation of State and Military

Darryl Sharratt is the father of Justin Sharratt. Who is Justin Sharratt? Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt is one of the Marines accused of murdering civilians in Haditha, Iraq. Darryl Sharratt recently shared his feelings on the case in an interview with the right-wing website NewsMax. In that interview, I found this revealing quote:

We have a constitutional amendment that separates church and state, but we need one that separates state and military.

Congressman Jack MurthaRegardless of the guilt or innocence of Lance Cpl. Sharratt, his father does indeed raise an interesting point. Congressman Jack Murtha, who brought the Haditha incident to the public spotlight, also chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Which means that there’s something of a conflict of interest in him pushing for the prosecution of these Marines. The military could conceivably be prosecuting Sharratt & Co. simply because they’re afraid to piss Murtha off and have their budgets slashed or redirected.Are you going to bite the hand that feeds you?” Sharratt asks NewsMax. “They may say it’s not political, but there’s your first step in the political process — you have to go to this man to get your next M-16 rifle.”

Which leads me to one of the things that’s so distressing about the whole Iraq War in the first place. Most of the men and women in our government seem to have forgotten what the Constitution says about the separation of powers. Worse yet, the public’s bought in to it.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work, according to the Constitution.

Islamic fundamentalists execute a direct attack on the United States. The public is outraged. The U.S. intelligence agencies figure out who’s behind the attack and hand this information off to Congress. Congress jumps into emergency sessions and, after some speechifying, decides to declare war on Afghanistan. The president salutes smartly, says “will do,” and orders up the attack on Afghanistan. The war progresses, Congress declares a victory or a treaty or even a retreat, and the president complies.

This is something every American kid learns in school. The president of the United States cannot declare war. Only the Congress can do that. Let’s take a look at the tape. (Or, rather, let’s take a look at Article One, Section 8 of a certain yellowed historic document sitting in the National Archives.)

The Congress shall have the power… To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

Meanwhile, the president? Here’s what aforementioned yellowed document says about his/her role:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…. He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.

There’s been a lot of guff in the media about George W. Bush proclaiming that he’s the sole “decider” when it comes to the Iraq War and how long the U.S. military will stay there. But the simple fact of the matter is that he’s not. He’s the commander of chief of our armed forces, and reserves the right to make the decisions on how the war is to be prosecuted (although, even there Congress is given the power to “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces”).

Yes, the president has some pretty broad latitude. But final authority over whether we stay or go resides with the Congress.

All too often, we seem to forget that the president only represents a third of the United States government, the executive branch. He doesn’t have the authority to make laws, or declare war. According to the Constitution, in fact, he’s something of a figurehead; he’s the guy that’s supposed to serve as a check to the power of the legislative branch. He’s kind of supposed to be the public face to the policies that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are spearheading in the House and Senate.

The Powers That Be, by David HalberstamBut somehow we’ve gotten away from that. One of the great, unnoticed stories of the twentieth century was the huge power grab undertaken by the executive branch of government. When you think of “untrammeled executive power,” you might think of Republicans Bush, Nixon, or Reagan; but the groundwork was really laid by Democrats Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, with a big ol’ bloody star for Lyndon Johnson and his Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (For a great overview of that subject, look no further than David Halberstam’s The Powers That Be, which mostly chronicles the rise of big media, but also explores the slippery slope that led from Roosevelt’s Depression-era manipulating down to Nixon’s Watergate.)

Why do we elevate the president on such a pedestal? Why don’t schoolchildren memorize the names of past speakers of the House or presidents of the Senate? How many of them can you actually name?

Coming back to the original topic of this article: we have a separation of state and military. It’s inscribed in the U.S. Constitution, and it goes like this. Congress makes the war policy, the president carries it out. Plain and simple.

So U.S. senators and congresspeople: you don’t have to muck around with non-binding resolutions. You can make a binding resolution ending the war in Iraq anytime you want to. You can cut off funding and bring the troops home. And if the president chooses to ignore you, you can ITMFA. I’m not claiming that I’m in favor of this — I go back and forth on the wisdom of initiating impeachment proceedings during a time of war, regardless of how dubious the cause of said war is — but Congress, it’s your right.

The Constitution of the United States says so.

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  1. Hugh on January 29, 2007 at 11:58 am  Chain link

    To the idea of impeaching Bush, I can only offer two words: President Cheney.

    Remember that back in the 70’s, nobody seriously considered impeachment procedings against Nixon until after VP Spiro Agnew had resigned and been replaced by Gerald Ford.

  2. RedRover on January 29, 2007 at 6:00 pm  Chain link

    You seem to forget that Congress authorized the war in Iraq.

  3. David Louis Edelman on January 29, 2007 at 6:06 pm  Chain link

    RedRover: Sure, they authorized it — but Bush would have gone in there with or without Congressional approval. And he certainly won’t listen if they choose to defund the war.

  4. Brian on January 29, 2007 at 7:27 pm  Chain link

    The president of the United States cannot declare war. Only the Congress can do that.

    I agree with you, David. Sure enough there is a lot of blame to go around – both parties, legislative and executive.

    You give a pol an inch of power and they’ll take a yard. You can trust the government in at least that much.

    Nitpick – Justin Sharratt is a Lance Corporal which is not the same thing as being a Corporal. The former is E3 the latter is an E4 and NCO. It makes a diff .. if only to Marines (grin).

    And he certainly won’t listen if they choose to defund the war.

    We live in interesting times. I wish they’d at least try. You can’t claim to be elected on a mandate to end the war and then speechify and pass (for the sweet thorny headed love of God) non-binding resolutions.

  5. David Louis Edelman on January 29, 2007 at 9:06 pm  Chain link

    Nitpick – Justin Sharratt is a Lance Corporal which is not the same thing as being a Corporal.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I admit I didn’t have the slightest idea what a Lance Corporal was, I just took it from the NewsMax article and shoulda figured it was a different rank than a Corporal. I’ve fixed the error now.

  6. Brian on January 29, 2007 at 11:49 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for pointing that out.

    You’re welcome. Applying ‘Lance’ to a rank indicates ‘Lowest possible form of that rank’. The Marines have it (bias warning) because it is not unknown for an E-3 to be put in charge of leadership tasks that are nominally above their billet but due to personnel shortages you reach down and get the next guy in order of seniority or who looks like he’s ready to take charge. The Army would promote the guy or commission him. The Marines give you the job and a medal if you do well. It’s cheaper that way.

    It’s a relatively new rank – it was brought into being (more bias ahead) after WW II when the services were adjusting to the whole Cold War thing. The Army in a fit of the dumbs tried hard to forget their mission of killing people the old fashioned way and become more like the Air Force and created a whole raft of Specialist ranks (and did away with the rank ‘Corporal’) – the idea being that most soldiers were going to be Atomic-era technicians and not have to be so grubby as to dig fox holes.

    Meanwhile the Marines (Semper Fi) prepared for the WW III missions no-body else wanted (Turkey, Norway) and brush-fire wars by preparing junior enlisted to step up and become leaders – creating the E-3 rank of ‘Lance Corporal’ or ‘junior NCO in training’.

    Which is probably more than you ever wanted to know – but I will run on.

    Incidentally I had the ‘honor’ of spending the majority of my eight years service as a Marine at that rank. A stellar Mr. Marine kinda guy I was not.

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