Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
“Well, we’re in yet another war,” sighed Amy Handleman, blowing gently across her steaming coffee beverage in a downtown cafe.
“A new war?” responded Howard Bashford. “What new war?”
“You know, Libya,” said Amy. “We’re firing off cruise missiles at a million bucks a pop to stop Moammar Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people.”
“Oh, that,” said Howard. “That’s not a war. The administration has explained it’s just a ‘kinetic military action.’ And, amazingly, we’ve been able to rain down missiles and bombs without causing any ‘collateral damage.’”
Amy stopped in mid-sip. “You’re kidding,” she said.
“Nope,” said Howard. “We’re using ordnance that only kills soldiers and mercenaries and only blows up military equipment. Our president said we needed to do it to stop Gadhafi’s ‘wanton violence against unarmed civilians.’ You know, like those civilians with the rocket-propelled grenades holed up in Benghazi.”
“Wow,” Amy replied sarcastically.
“What’s the matter?” said Howard. “Don’t you support the aspirations of people to be free?”
“Well, yeah,” said Amy, “but it seems to me the Constitution says only Congress has the power to declare war.”
“Congress didn’t declare war for Korea,” said Howard. “It didn’t do it for Vietnam. It didn’t do it for Grenada or Panama or Kuwait or Afghanistan or Iraq.
“What’s the big deal? After all, the president did declare a national emergency, finding that Gadhafi’s actions ‘constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
“We go to war because of a threat to our foreign policy?” asked Amy incredulously. “How can that be legal?”
“Well, as the president said, ‘When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,’” Howard responded.
“Barack Obama said that?” Amy sputtered.
“Nah. That was Dick Nixon,” Howard chuckled. “But, seriously, presidents have used various reasons for using the military without congressional approval.
“Clinton used it in Bosnia, you’ll recall, because stopping ‘ethnic cleansing’ was ‘the right thing to do.’
“And then you had the president saying, ‘Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade, and much of his nation’s wealth, not on providing for the Iraqi people, but on developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them.’”
“Oh, sure,” said Amy. “That was George W. Bush.”
“Aaaaaaaaaaa!” went Howard, imitating a game-show buzzer.
“No,” he said, “That was Clinton, too. The president also cited the dictator’s ‘extreme measures against the people.’”
“Oh, right. I get you now,” said Amy. “That also was Clinton.”
“Negative! That was Obama,” corrected Howard. “You know, I have to agree with him that it was terrible that ‘journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted and killed.’”
“In Libya,” said Amy flatly.
“Actually, I meant in Egypt,” said Howard. “What do you think about the president’s statements, ‘A threat to any nation in that region is a threat to all, and a threat to us’ and our action ‘has the purpose of helping these countries to repel aggression and strengthen their independence’?”
“Obama?” said Amy tentatively.
“Lyndon Johnson, 1964,” smirked Howard. “He also said the United States ‘seeks no wider war.’ But there’s more at stake in North Africa than just Libya.
“Remember, the president said, ‘You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.’”
“OK,” said Amy. “That makes sense. Obama was pointing out the fragile democratic movements in Egypt and Tunisia.”
“Uh-uh,” said Howard. “That was Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, talking about Vietnam. Maybe you’re thinking of the words, ‘The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes with healing in its wings; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples.’”
“Now, that sounds like our eloquent President Barack H. Obama,” said Amy.
“Gotcha!” said Howard. “That was Dick Nixon. Who do you think said, ‘We must build a new world, a far better world – one in which the eternal dignity of man is respected’?”
“It wasn’t Obama, was it?” said Amy, now more than a bit gun shy.
“No indeed,” replied Howard. “That was Harry Truman. However, Barack Obama did say, ‘The United States of America will stand with you as you seek justice and progress and human rights and dignity of all people,’ and he condemned ‘the continuing acts of violence against unarmed civilians, particularly women. …’”
“In Libya,” said Amy.
“No, in Cote d’Ivoire, way around on the southern coast of Africa’s westward bulge,” said Howard. “That would be my best guess for our next ‘national emergency.’ Certainly it would be safer than going after repression in Syria or Iran or China.”
Amy sighed and pushed away the remains of her mocha cappuccino.
“I guess this all means both Congress and the president – whoever is in the White House – haven’t paid much attention to the Constitution since, what, World War II?”