Congress must say go
Air war on Syria requires congressional authorization
As the situation in Syria has continued to devolve, the calls for U.S. intervention have continued to grow louder. Recently, Sen. John Mccain became the first U.S. official to call publicly for U.s.-led airstrikes to halt the violence in Syria. With all due respect to my friend and colleague, Mr. Mccain, I must categorically disagree with these calls. Anyonewho knows my 30 years of service on the House Foreign Affairs Committee knows that I am certainly not a dove when it comes to protecting the national security interests of the United States. However, I have never supported the idea that the United States is or should be the world’s policeman. If we accept that role, we are committing to act and to put our soldiers and civilians in harm’s way where our nation’s interests may be very modest at best.
Where are the soldiers, the fleets or ships and airplanes? Where is the endless source of money to do the job and do it properly? If it is — as Mr. McCain appears to be arguing — the responsibility of the United States to intervene anywhere a regime commits violence against its population, then we have been derelict in our duty to the world. Then we would owe a profound apology to the people of Zimbabwe, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, North Korea, Burma and countless other despotic regimes that have, to this point, been spared the wrath of our military might.
The violence in Syria is appalling, and Syrian President Bashar Assad certainly is no friend of the United States. But Syria has not declared war on the United States or attacked the U.S., our territories, possessions or armed forces. By what right, then, do we attack Syria? Regrettably, with the voices for intervention growing louder and President Obama’s poll numbers sliding, I fear the administration may not worry about whether we have the right to attack Syria if it thinks that doing so will help the president’s reelection efforts. I would remind the president that Mr. Mccain does not speak for the U.S. Congress. I also would remind the president, contrary to the assertion of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that international authorization does not trump congressional authorization.
The power to declare war — and make no mistake, attacking Syria amounts to an act of war — is perhaps the most profound power granted to the U.S. Congress. A review of the notes of the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention makes it clear that the framers of our Constitution firmly believed that the momentous consequences of initiating armed hostilities should be called up only by the concurrence of both houses of Congress. In contrast to the English system, the framers did not want the wealth and blood of the nation committed by the decision of a single individual. The War Powers Act was enacted into law over a presidential veto — not an easy thing to accomplish — to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States in requiring the president to seek the consent of Congress before the introduction of the United States armed forces into hostile action.
Section 2(c) of the War Powers Act provides that no attempt by the president to introduce the U.S. armed forces into hostile action may be made under the War Powers Act unless there is “(1) a declaration of war, (2) a specific authorization or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possession, or its armed forces.”
The Constitution and the War Powers Act are not suggestions, they are the law of the land. The law the president of the United States and every member of Congress and senator swears to protect and to defend.
On Sept. 11, 2001, our nation was attacked. President George W. Bush still sought authorization from Congress before going into Afghanistan. Similarly, Mr. Bush sought congressional authorization before Iraq. Mr. Bush respected the authority of Congress and the limitations of the Constitution. If Mr. Obama is contemplating taking Mr. Mccain’s suggestion, as I fear he is, he is required before one plane leaves a hangar or carrier or one American bullet is fired to seek the formal authorization of Congress. If he does anything less, he will be violating his oath of office and committing an arguably impeachable offense.
This cannot be said enough: The Constitution is not a list of suggestions, it is the law of the land. If the president and Mr. Mccain want to go to war in Syria, they must come to Congress for permission first.
TBATUMI, GEORGIA his city is one of the oldest on earth, as humans lived here at least as early as the 12th century B.C. Now, it is rapidly becoming one of the most modern cities on the planet. Its setting at the eastern end of the Black Sea coast is spectacular, with orange groves and snow-covered mountains rising literally within walking distance of the beaches.
While most of the high-income countries are in the process of squandering the wealth they once created, there are places on the globe that are making great progress merely by doing the right things. One of these places is the small, relatively poor country of Georgia. Ironically, Georgia, through its success, is a reminder to the United States that reversing regulatory excess and state intervention pays dividends.
Georgia was swallowed up by the Soviet Union in 1921 and did not regain its independence until 1991. The Georgians struggled to develop a freemarket democracy during the first years after becoming independent but fell short until they elected a young, and partially U.S. educated, free-market reformer by the name of Mikheil Saakashvili as their new president in 2004. President Saakashvili and his reformist colleagues — despite a few missteps, such as getting into a war with Russia in 2008 — have done many more things right than wrong.
The Georgians eliminated much regulatory red tape, moved to a largely free-trade regime and went to a 20 percent flat-rate personal income-tax system and a 15 percent corporate tax rate. The results are impressive. In the World Bank’s 2012 Doing Business report on the “ease of doing business,” Georgia ranks No. 16 of 183 countries and is No. 1 among the 24 countries in the Eastern European and Central Asian region. Georgia ranks No. 27 of the 141 countries in the Fraser/cato Economic Freedom of the World index, by far the highest ranking in the region. Most important is the fact that Georgia ranks No. 7 on business regulation and No. 15 on the size of government.
Georgia has had more success in fighting corruption than any other country. In Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2010, a public opinion survey, Georgia easily ranks first out of 86 countries — a whopping 78 percent of its citizens surveyed considered that corruption had decreased. According to a new World Bank report, “Since 2003, Georgia has had unique success in fighting corruption in public services. Many countries in the world are struggling with the same problem. Georgia has proven that success can be achieved in a relatively short period of time given strong political will and concerted action by the government.”
Georgia has a debt-to-gdp ratio that is half that of the United States, the United Kingdom and France at a very manageable 38 percent. Except for the period right after the Russian invasion in 2008, Georgia has enjoyed a high rate of economic growth as a result of the reforms, with an expected growth rate of 7 percent this year. Despite the successes, Georgia needs to do even more to bring down its unemployment rate and bring its standard of living up to the developed world’s standards.
Batumi is the major city in the Ajara region of Georgia. The head of the Ajara government for the past eight years is a smart, personable and dynamic 40-year old lawyer, Levan Varshalomidze. He is the force behind the massive redevelopment of the region and particularly Batumi. A century ago, before the communists wrecked it, Batumi was a thriving port city. Much of the old city has been restored. Along a few-miles-long stretch of the Black Sea coast from the airport to the old city center, a string of architecturally distinctive luxury international hotels, office buildings and residences have been completed recently, and others are still under construction. The old, ugly Soviet-style housing is being torn down and replaced with modern, well-designed condos and apartments. The rebirth and redevelopment of Batumi is properly called the “Batumi miracle.”
Batumi is still too much of a summer tourist center, so Chairman Varshalomidze told me he is trying to stimulate yearround service industries, including the development of an international financial center. Unlike too many politicians in the United States and Europe, he is not trying to manage decay. To his credit, he is in a great rush to create a newer, better and much more prosperous Batumi. The secret of Georgia and Batumi’s success is simple — less regulation, lower taxes and more freedom. That is a formula that can work everywhere.