Mr. Ryan has prevented and continues to prevent members of Congress from discharging their constitutional obligation to decide under Article I, section 8, clause 11 whether the nation should resort to war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The president’s unconstitutional unilateral belligerency against ISIL currently spans seven nations — Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Libya. It is approaching its second anniversary with not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It might last forever.
On Nov. 6, 2015, 35 House members wrote Speaker Ryan urging him to direct committees of jurisdiction to draft and report out an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL for debate and a floor vote. The members elaborated: “Congress can no longer ask our brave service men and women to continue to serve in harm’s way while we fail in carrying out our constitutional responsibility in the area of war and peace.”
Speaker Ryan sneered at the request, and did nothing. On June 14, another letter was sent by four members to the speaker reiterating the constitutional urgency of an AUMF debate and floor vote on a 2-year old war already implicating seven nations. Speaker Ryan again has refused to act.
He prefers playing carping spectator to President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional war against ISIL than to take responsibility for sending our armed forces abroad to risk that last full measure of devotion on a fool’s errand — like the Vietnam War. There may be better examples of contemptible speaker cravenness, but if there are, they do not readily come to mind.
The U.S. Constitution’s crown jewel is the exclusive entrustment to Congress of the power to authorize the initiation of war — a decision that dwarfs all others in national importance. War not only makes mass murder legal, but endows the president with limitless power dangerous to the republic. James Madison, father of the Constitution, explained:
“In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.”
During the constitutional convention and the state ratification debates, only South Carolina delegate Pierce Butler questioned Madison’s profundity. But he quickly recanted his doubts. Chief Justice John Marshall thus authoritatively wrote in 1804 without dissent: “[I]t is for Congress alone to decide for war.”
The Constitution’s architects were long-headed. Presidential wars — invariably fueled by inflated fears — are either ruinous or otiose. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, and against al Qaeda and ISIL are exemplary. After spending trillions of dollars on warfare since 9/11, our intelligence “experts” maintain that the international terrorist danger to the United States is undiminished if not greater.
Presidential wars might be likened to searching abroad for hornets’ nests to burst open and then demanding trillions in military spending to fight the furious hornets we provoked. Depend upon it. If Congress remains pusillanimous and idle, Presidential wars against China and Russia will be initiated within a decade or two.
Speaker Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has acquiesced in if not encouraged President Obama to steal the Constitution’s crown jewel from Congress. He has blocked members seeking both to prevent the president’s theft, and to restore the stolen goods. These are crimes against the Constitution which compel a House resolution declaring the speakership vacant.