Our First Undeclared War

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Congress passed a virtue signaling attempt to bind the President’s hands on any further military action in regard to Iran.  It has as much legal significance as a blog post since a similar resolution will not pass the Senate and would be vetoed by Trump if it did.  We go through this pantomime regularly whenever there is a military conflict and it is beyond silly.  Congress has the power of the purse and it can end any military operations it pleases immediately by exercising it.  That it does not is a tribute both to political divisions in Congress and the fact that such an act would make Congress responsible for the consequences of a foreign policy disaster, something Congress has normally avoided throughout our history.

Congress has the power to declare war, something it rarely has done.  The conflicts in which declarations of war were issued consist of the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and the two World Wars.  We of course have had far more wars than that.  Our first undeclared war began  in 1790 during Washington’s first term.  It was a sanguinary struggle of the infant Republic against the Western Confederacy of Indians in the Northwest Territory.  The conflict now is unknown to most Americans but stretched on for five years with military disasters and triumphs for the US, until General “Mad” Anthony Wayne brought the conflict to a victorious close, and ensured that the Northwest Territory would be open to settlement.

Under the practice of this country we may fight wars declared and undeclared.  All wars should have congressional support, at least to the extent that funding is not cut off.  All presidents should strive to keep Congress, and the nation, informed about conflicts.  Congress, if it is going to oppose such a conflict, should do so forthrightly by cutting off funding, and not seek to exercise power without responsibility, ever the prerogative of harlots, as British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said about press barons in the last century.  When it comes to undeclared wars, there is ever a whole lot of harlotry going on in Congress.

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