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Should Congress 'own' military action?

Let’s review the U.S. Constitution and laws that are on the books that govern President Obama’s decisions to act on the Islamic State in Syria. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn. framed it up in his belief that Congress must authorize military action.

Senator Corker says Obama needs Congressional permission to engage Syria
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“We should, certainly, authorize this,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” political program. “Congress should own … military action.”

One would think that by now the actions to declare war and to make war would have been sorted out. According to the Defense News report, some legal scholars believe that President Obama already has the power to act without another trip to Congress. As a matter for clarification and courtesy, one would think that the President would seek advice from Congress on such an important matter as invading Syria.

First, he needs to ask the Syrian government if they mind his authorizing attacks against the Islamic State in Syria.

Second, he needs to ask Congress for approval to do this which will likely require the President to explain in detail how he sees the engagement proceeding to desirable outcomes.

President Obama has not earned the trust of Congress and Americans to date as he has made mistakes and his counselling with Congress adds assurance that decisions and actions will be correct.

Let’s check the President’s job model. The specific subject of this article pertains to Subtask 3.5: Request a declaration for war from Congress.

Purpose of President of the United States: As Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the entire federal government enterprise of the nation, the single most important outcome is to optimize performance from all of the departments and agencies under command of this position.

One might argue that “providing for the common defense” of the nation is most important. Reality is that defending the nation from tyranny requires both military and economic policy and strategy. A nation for which the economy fails to produce sufficient wealth and opportunity for all can be as undermining to security as external threats from terrorists and governments. Being President of the United States of America is a balancing act between these strategies, competing for limited resources.

Continuous improvement in a democratic form of government comes from the following:

  • Changing, amending, and retiring and replacing present laws
  • Presidential directives and memos communicating policies and policy guidance
  • Administration of directives and memos as they too require changing, amending, retiring, and replacing
  • Strategic planning
  • Budgeting and funding requests

All of these things are a product of the president’s management approach and government processes and routines governing them.

Much of what a president does demands knowledge about Constitutional law and implementation of policy through regulations. Therefore, voters might be prudent to favor candidates that are trained in the law. On the other hand, argument can be made that it is desirable for candidates to have demonstrate success in managing enterprise outside the legal profession.

There is a comprehensive schedule of government activities some of which are annual, others are quadrennial, and some are incremental and overlap a president’s one or two-terms in office as it overlaps Representatives’ and Senators’ terms of office. This overlapping of rolling and on-going activities make the business of the government complex and uniquely different from commercial business practices in many ways, though similar as well. Our point in saying that is to inform voters that 1) there is a unique value from candidates having had government experience and 2) there is a unique value from candidates possessing commercial executive experience.

A president enters the office that is in perpetual motion. The world and nation doesn’t stop to await a new administration, yet there are many contradictions and barriers to this notion. For instance, one of the most important things that a president can do to achieve optimal performance is to select and appoint the best qualified executives for each department under presidential command. Doing this, the president can delegate with confidence and achieve a multiplier effect as an extension of the CEO.

Six Primary Tasks of the U. S. President’s Job Model

Throughout the range of tasks, the President analyzes, evaluates, approves and directs allocation of the government’s resources to perform work and produce required outcomes. Only Congress can fund the work of government. Achieving the highest return on cost is a president’s responsibility. The following tasks are a straw man, a place to begin as voters think through the process independently.

What is one the first things a president must have to do to get started with a new administration? The president needs a staff, an organization, a plan and a schedule. So let’s get started.

Task 1: Planning, staffing, organizing, and scheduling Presidential work and government functions

Subtask 1.1: Recruit and staff the cabinet and department and agency appointments
Subtask 1.2: Conduct cabinet meetings to develop and implement strategies and policies for accomplishing the nation’s workload and issues
Subtask 1.3: Define the nation’s outcomes and priorities for each major department and agency produce the nation’s strategic plan

Task 2: Develop the President’s management agenda and budget and reconcile with Congress

Subtask 2.1: Assume responsibility for the legacy agenda and make adjustments to align with the President’s management agenda or equivalent
Subtask 2.2: Work with cabinet heads to develop performance plans and schedules
Subtask 2.3: Work with Congressional leadership and collaborate to implement the nation’s strategy, plans, and programs

Task 3: Initiate and approve legislation

Subtask 3.1: Propose bills to Congress
Subtask 3.2: Consult and advise Congress
Subtask 3.3: Collaborate with industry and business leaders in the development of policies and regulations of all kinds
Subtask 3.4: Approve or veto legislation
Subtask 3.5: Request a declaration for war from Congress

Task 4: Implement plans and manage on-going operations

Subtask 4.1: Review and evaluate programs that include new acquisitions and on-going operations
Subtask 4.2: Evaluate programs including legacy processes and engineer new ones for accomplishing and producing required and promised outcomes
Subtask 4.3: Continuously improve

Task 5: Report progress and discuss issues with the American public to keep them informed

Task 6: Meet with heads of state and participate in international meetings and conferences for heads of state

Subtask 6.1: Participate in international economic conferences
Subtask 6.2: Respond to international crises and requests for assistance
Subtask 6.3: Promote democratic process and reforms

Regarding Task 6, I initially did not identify any specific subtasks, though prompted by world events: Middle East revolutions and Japan’s compound natural disaster, I tried to accommodate these areas of responsibility.

Observe that subtask 3.5 is a request to Congress for war. The President does not declare war as that is a congressional responsibility.

“A declaration of war is a formal declaration issued by a national government indicating that a state of war exists between that nation and another. For the United States, Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says "Congress shall have power to ... declare War". However, that passage provides no specific format for what form legislation must have in order to be considered a "Declaration of War" nor does the Constitution itself use this term. Many have postulated "Declaration(s) of War" must contain that phrase as or within the title. Others oppose that reasoning. In the courts, the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe vs. Bush said: "[T]he text of the October Resolution itself spells out justifications for a war and frames itself as an 'authorization' of such a war."[1] in effect saying a formal Congressional "Declaration of War" was not required by the Constitution.” Presidents often get into trouble when the line is not clear between formal war and skirmishes of different kinds.”

This job model is derived from the “Expressed Powers” as defined in the U. S. Constitution:

The Constitution: Expressed Powers

“The Constitution is the document that forms the foundation of our government. It highlights the power that is taken from the citizens and given to the President. This is expressed power. According to Article II, Section 2, the President shall:

  • be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed services
  • have the power to grant reprieves and pardons
  • have the power to make treaties (with concurrence of the Senate)
  • appoint Ambassadors, Supreme Court judges, and all other Officers of the United States
  • appoint vacancies that may occur during the recess of the Senate
  • receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers
  • care that the laws be faithfully executed
  • recommend to Congress measures for their consideration (propose a bill)
  • approve or veto every Congressional bill (vetoes may be over-ridden)”

Once again, the Constitution is lean and concise in definition, while the business of government that is driven by the people persists in guiding the behavior of its participants on their behalf. We think the Job Model as developed accommodates and is consistent with Constitutional provisions as well as guidance from the Federalists Papers.

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