It's not every day that I find myself agreeing with Vice President Dick Cheney on anything, but he did make a very cogent and important point in an address yesterday. Speaking critically of Congressional attempts to drive the course of the war in Iraq, he noted that "The military answers to one commander in chief in the White House, not 535 commanders in chief on Capitol Hill."
This is true. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution clearly states that "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."
And the Constitution also states, in Article I, Section 8, that "The Congress shall have the power...To declare war."
And this is where Congress and the Executive have both fallen down. In my opinion (and I am, admittedly, no scholar of Constitutional law), Congress has been ducking its responsibilities ever since the beginning of the war in Iraq; first by not formally declaring war, and then by failing to hold routine hearings on the conduct of the war so that the President and uniformed military leaders could be held to account for their actions. During World War II, generals were frequently relieved when they didn't produce results. In Iraq, no general officer has ever been fired despite five years of grinding misery and a generally worsening situation on the ground.
The Vice President is right...the President is the Commander-in-Chief. But this does not relieve him of the requirement to answer to the legislature for his conduct of the war. And the legislature, on the other hand, has a responsibility to oversee and, when necessary, criticize the actions of the executive. This doesn't mean sitting on the sidelines and churning out useless sound bites. It means taking constitutional responsibility seriously, standing up as a co-equal branch of government, and providing the oversight that has been sadly lacking so far.
The situation in Iraq has degenerated far beyond the ability to resolve it with simplistic actions. Author and Washington Post military reporter Thomas Ricks has pointed out that there are no good options left in Iraq - all we can do is pick the best of an array of bad options. And this is what Congress needs to do - stop carping and work with the President to select the best option...to dig us out of the Iraqi hole with concern not only for the US military, but also for the Iraqis who have suffered so much - first under Saddam, and now under a vicious insurgency that kills more of its own citizens than it does US soldiers.
In short, we don't need 535 commanders-in-chief. We need 535 men and women with the spine and the moral courage to stand up and do what's right. We need 535 men and women who think it's more important to work with the President to solve the problem he has recklessly created than to sit on the sidelines and whine.
We need senators and representatives who take their constitutional responsibilities seriously.
But I'm not holding my breath.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.