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Rediscovering the Great British Republican Tradition


For a Civic and Constitutional Republic


Issue No 43 Friday 3 July 2009





This week 


·        Obama Extends War In Afghanistan. But In Doing So He Violates The Constitution


·         How Portugal treats drug addicts



News Stories

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.





·        Obama Extends War In Afghanistan. But In Doing So He Violates The Constitution


While we concern ourselves with the problems at home of MPs expenses, the banking debacle, the struggles for power within the cabinet, and so on, in various parts of the world, we and our allies are still engaged in military adventures – war.

This week, the big news should have been the increase in the offensive in the Afghan war that President Obama has committed his country to. His action should be no surprise. Obama said during his presidential campaign that he was determined to win the war in Afghanistan that was launched in 2001 by his predecessor President Bush and that he would commit additional resources to doing so.

Taliban Fighters

The Obama administration has ordered the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2 MEB) into a potentially bloody offensive in the southern province of Helmand. Helmand has been targeted for the first major operation in Obama’s Afghan “surge”

Early on the morning of Thursday, 2nd July, 2 MEB began what has been described as the biggest airlift of marines since the Vietnam War. Code-named “Khanjar”—Pashtun for “strike of the sword”—the operation is the largest undertaken by the Marine Corp since it led the assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November 2004. In all, some 4,000 marines and a 600-strong battalion of the Afghan Army are involved, supported by an array of jet fighters, unmanned drones and helicopter gunships. More than 700 UK troops have also launched a major offensive against insurgent strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

To date in this operation, just one marine has been killed and some 11 wounded. Dozens of others have needed treatment for heat exhaustion in the blistering temperatures of the Afghan summer. The British and Danish troops operating in the northern districts of Helmand have also taken casualties. On Wednesday, two British soldiers were killed and six others wounded by a roadside bomb outside Lashkar Gah. Among the dead was Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest ranking British officer to be killed in combat since the 1982 Falklands War. The same day, a Danish soldier was seriously wounded by a suspected mine.

We are so used to seeing USA (and the Kingdom) involved in wars all over the globe that it is easy to forget that America was supposed, by its founders, to be a country that would try to avoid war. To this end the President was not given the right to “declare war”. The Constitution is quite clear on this. That function rests with Congress.

The American constitution is supposed to provide defense against the Executive (the President) waging war without restraint. Article 1, Section 8, provides that

"Congress shall have the power ... to declare war."

By vesting Congress with the power to declare war, the framers of the Constitution stripped the Executive of the powers the English king enjoyed at the time. The framers placed the powers to decide to go to war in the hands of Congress expressly because

"it is the branch most deliberate by design, most in touch with the American people, and thus least inclined to commit soldiers to the battlefield.".

Unfortunately the founders created an ambiguity in the use of the expression “declare war”. What they undoubtedly meant was that the President should not be able to “wage war”, but they wrote the constitution before the ungentlemanly practice of attacking someone without giving them warning was common practice. The rather quaint business of announcing intention to attack before you did so has now died out and so "declaring war" has no longer any meaning. (The business of waging, without declaring, war belongs mostly to the post-World War II era.)

Since the beginning of the US republic, Presidents have exploited this ambiguity and taken it upon themselves to wage war without consulting Congress. In spite of Article 1, Section 8, US Presidents in the twentieth century, and before, have taken the decision alone to wage war. In spite of all the great virtues of America and its Constitution, the belligerent character of the nation has long been outstanding as a major defect. In this respect the spirit of Constitution has not been respected - although the letter strictly may have been.

In the 1970's when the disastrous adventure in Vietnam was fresh in Americans’ minds there was an attempt to clarify matters on who could wage war. This resulted the in the 1973 statute which stated that the president may exercise his powers as commander in chief

"only pursuant to

(1)  a declaration of war,

(2)  a specific statutory authorization, or

(3)  a national emergency created by an attack upon the United States.".

However, since the enactment of the 1973 statute, Presidents have sent troops into conflict on several occasions when none of these circumstances were present: including Grenada, Yugoslavia, and Haiti.

Presidents have simply ignored the Constitution and ignored Congress. This situation is quite intolerable in any Republic.

For the British the capacity of our leader to take us to war has also been brought to the fore by Tony Blair's cooperating with President Bush on the illegal invasion of Iraq and also by the military action in Afghanistan. But, of course, as we have no written constitution to consult the Prime Minister can officially do as he or she pleases.

When it comes to framing the new Republican Constitution for Great Britain we need to consider very carefully the power the President will have to wage war. In this respect the example of the United States will be pertinent.

To return to the United States, in 2007, because of doubts about President Bush's conduct in waging war, particularly in Iraq, the matter surfaced again and consequently a National War Powers Commission was set up. In July of 2008, the commission reported its recommendation for dealing with the power of the President to wage war.

The Commission concluded that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has failed to promote cooperation between the two branches of government (i.e. Congress and the President) and recommended that Congress pass a new statute – the War Powers Consultation Act of 2009 – that would establish a clear process on decisions to go to war. The War Powers Consultation Act of 2009:

1.    Provides that the president shall consult with Congress before deploying U.S. troops into "significant armed conflict"

2.    Creates a new Joint Congressional Consultation Committee, which includes leaders of both Houses as well as the chair and ranking members of key committees.

3.    Establishes a permanent bipartisan staff with access to the national security and intelligence information necessary to conduct its work.

Unfortunately the Commission's response falls far short of reclaiming any of the powers for Congress that the framers designed. The War Powers Commission does seek to persuade the advocates of unlimited executive power that some degree of cooperation between the White House and the legislative branch is essential for the success of US foreign policy operations. The authors of the report explain that

"we believe that our country is best served ... when the two branches work together to protect our nation's security.”

But words such as "persuade" and "work together" as too soft to address the fundamental problem of abuse of the Constitution.

In effect, the President is being granted new powers to launch and conduct a war, while Congress is being signed on as a powerless extra. There is no concern for constitutional guarantees or democratic rights.

It has always been a principle of Republicanism that a Constitution must be designed to prevent the Executive taking excess power. Underpinning this is the belief that Executive will always try to accumulate more and more power and only constitutional guarantees can prevent this. In the Kingdom we have little in the way of such guarantees against the office of Prime Minister.

The United States Constitution should present an example of how the Separation of Power of Executive from Legislature (Parliament or Congress) should safeguard against excessive executive power. For the most part this does happen. If it is not happening, as clearly it is not when it comes to waging war, then it is up to the people to stand up for the Constitution.

Ultimately the Constitution is only a document. If people are not prepared to insist on its implementation then any President, such as George W. Bush or Barack Obama, will run roughshod over them.

And the world will be a more dangerous place.


Recommended article of the week




·        How Portugal treats drug addicts


The Civic Republican Manifesto argues for the decriminalization of drug use - or to be precise for the decriminalization of the recreational use of drugs

This article tells how they do things in Portugal and its effects

Read Article



If you wish to comment on these articles or any other matter email


……. …….until next week

































































































































































































*It is not that Republics can’t change should the long term will of the people desire it, but that on fundamental constitutional issues such as this they only change gradually. Republicans are conservatives (with a small “c”).







































































*This practice has lead over the last few years to an intense crisis for the bank buying the "security" often did not know how well the loan was secured. In a huge number of cases this has been not very well and so the banks who bought the "securities" were taken for billions, such is the level of their incompetence and greed.









































*See P25 The Grip Of Death by Michael Rowbotham published 1997.And up to date figures for April 2008 show HBoS holds just 6% capital against debt "assets". The figure for Barclays is a measly 5.1%. (Moneyweek 2 May 2008. p.4). Exactly how much of this "capital" represents solid "non-toxic" capital assets is a question many would want to ask. The banks themselves are unlikely to know.