Iraq, and U.S. Presidential Wars



Lt. Ehren Watada

Lieutenant Ehren Watada has dared to defy the system.  He disavows Rayburn’s dictum: “to get along, go along.”  For Watada the situation in Iraq requires that an officer and a gentleman refuse orders.

"An order to take part in an illegal war is illegal in itself," says he.  Watada insists that he would deploy willingly into combat against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  However the 28 year old officer balks at playing a role in the bloody occupation of a sovereign nation whose people did nothing to harm the United States. 

Would that more officers would follow Watada’s example and abide by the principle established at the war crimes trials in Nuremberg after World War II.  The defense put forward by Nazi officers was that they were only obeying orders.  To the contrary, however, the court ruled that a soldier is morally bound by a law higher than the state; that the soldier is obliged to disobey any order which is intrinsically immoral.  Obeying the order to deploy to Iraq would, says Watada, “make me party to war crimes.”

Recently my daughter and I demonstrated in support of Lt. Watada’s brave act of refusal.  On an Interstate-5 overpass outside Ft. Lewis in Washington State, we stood with a crowd of demonstrators concerned about Watada’s plight (he faces trial leading to years in military prison).

From our vantage point over a freeway bisecting a large military base, it became clear that the war is enormously unpopular.  Many truck drivers and other motorists honked and waved in enthusiastic solidarity with a sea of signs urging our soldiers to “refuse illegal war.”  Even supporters of what our troops are inflicting on Iraq exhibited a kind of despair.  Their displays of vulgarity and anger against our stance were, perhaps, expressive of their desperation and frustration at a failing policy.

I myself was particularly supportive of Watada’s refusal to take part in a war that demeans the very Constitution that officers are sworn to uphold.  Every army officer pledges under oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States … so help me God.”  For the reasons indicated below I believe every American who stands by the Constitution should stand against the Iraq war.


At stake is the Constitutional principle that the Legislative Branch, not the Executive, is and ought to be the body that decides the issues of war or peace.  Since World War II there have been no declarations of war as per the First Article of the U.S. Constitution.  (Joint resolutions by Congress, like the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, or the resolutions secured by the two Bush Administrations, were extra-constitutional, and were certainly not declarations of war.)  Instead of Congress declaring war, the country has entered a series of undeclared Presidential wars, constituting the most war ridden half century in American history.

During the decades since World War II various Presidents have pursued a revisionist constitutional policy.  The White House now sends troops into long-term combat without even asking Congress for a declaration of war as per Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.  Without such declarations the U.S. military has engaged in five major wars: Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Gulf War II).  This list does not count lesser commitments of the military, in places like Somalia and the Balkans.

In 1952, during the first full-scale U.S. Presidential war (Korea) Justice Hugo Black began deconstructing the Congressional war-making power by writing for the majority that “theatre of war” is an “expanding concept.”  (Youngstown v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) at 587).  The same Supreme Court decision featured a concurring opinion by Justice Robert Jackson, who opposed “a niggardly construction” of the President’s war-making authority, lest the Commander-in-Chief’s powers “be narrowed.”  Instead this Quisling defender of the Constitution gave us a confession that he preferred,…


to indulge some latitude of interpretation for changing times. I have heretofore, and do now, give to the enumerated powers the scope and elasticity afforded by what seem to be reasonable, practical implications, instead of the rigidity dictated by a doctrinaire textualism. (at 640)




By hook or by crook the White House he’ll gain.

And greatness he’ll claim with napalm and pain.

Wives and mothers he will bereave,

The “rule of law” will give him leave,

And the Tonkin resolve, his guilt absolve.


As a consequence of expanded Presidential war-making power, backed by the constitutional amending by adjudication that characterizes our politburo of nine, the White House has sent GI’s to fight for causes that honesty cannot justify.  If we must ask young Americans to risk their lives; if we must bereave spouses and parents; then we owe our troops and their families the consolation of fighting in a justifiable way.  Yes there is, under God, such a thing as a just war.  But without declaration by proper authority, war against another nation cannot be well justified.

There is, moreover, a compelling spiritual rationale for avoiding foreign wars at this stage in American history.  Insofar as our purpose in invading other nations is to remove splinters from the eyes of foreigners, war will be of doubtful justifiability, unless and until we remove the timber from our own eyes.  In other words, given our own nation’s morally corrupt condition internally, whatever makes wars more difficult to undertake politically – so much the better.

The bottom line is this: if we eschew warmongering and confine the military to justifiable warfare; then because just wars are comparatively rare, we and our descendants will see fewer wars.  When America only went to war after Congress debated the issue and declared war, as per the constitutional requirement, then we averaged one war per quarter century.  But with the era of Presidential wars beginning at mid-20th century, America has averaged one war per decade.  Once we reached the point where a few politicians huddled in the oval office were enough to take us into war, then the military-industrial complex managed to orchestrate more wars, and the frequency of the country’s war making increased 2½ times.

As one-time Congressman, Abraham Lincoln, put it in opposing President James Knox Polk's land-grab war with Mexico (1846-48):


Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure.  Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect.... If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us," but he will say to you, "Be silent; I see it, if you don't."


Lincoln noted further that the power of absolute monarchs to make war was "‘the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions,’" and that to avert similar abuse the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia "‘resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.’"

During the debate over whether to ratify the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton reassured his countrymen that precisely such war making powers as the King of England had wielded were now safely vested in the U.S. Congress.  During the Convention itself, a proposal to give the President the power to make war did not even get a second.  The idea was immediately opposed by liberal statesmen like James Madison and James Mason, and by conservatives like James Wilson.  Elbridge Gerry (later Vice-President) expressed astonishment, indicating that he "‘never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the executive to declare war.’"  In his writings Thomas Jefferson added, "‘We have already given … one effectual check to the dog of war by transferring (to Congress) the power of letting him loose.’"

Under the postmodernist regime, however, the balance of powers has become defunct on the issue of making war, rendering the Constitution "‘no longer a reference point:’"  [Karl K. Schonberg, “Global Security and Legal Restraint: Reconsidering War Powers after September 11,” Political Science Quarterly 119 (Spring 2004): 125].

Of course requiring a congressional declaration will not stop all wars, or assure that wars be just.  Congressman Lincoln’s oratory notwithstanding, the Congress did declare war against Mexico in 1846.  But wars of aggression against foreign nations have been rare in our history, and to our country’s credit the United States conducted far fewer imperial wars than other great powers.  Restraint in this respect can be attributed, in no small part, to the checks and balances vested by the Constitution in the Legislative Branch, especially to the Congressional authority to declare war, or not to declare war. 

© July 2006

Robert Struble, Jr.



For us as beleaguered citizens, a commandeered airliner of five years ago offers an heroic parable for the imperative to act.  We also are confronted with a hijacking – the postmodernist takeover of America’s polity, economy and culture.  Like the flight 93 heroes of 9/11/2001 (who probably saved the Capitol building), posterity will thank us too if we do our best to recapture control of our country’s destiny.  They will thank us also for the legacy of safety we leave them if indeed we restore the constitutional role of our elected representatives in Congress on the matter of war or peace.  As George Washington put it during his second term as President:


The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore
no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they
have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.
Letter to Gen. William Moultrie of SC, 28 August 1793)


The issue of restoring the checks and balances described by President Washington is among the reforms put forward in the new online book, Treatise on Twelve Lights.  Click here for the sub-chapter on how we the people might impose a check against Presidential wars.  In addition to recapturing the ship of state and restoring it to fit political leadership, the book is also about renewal – about returning to port, where we can renovate the hull and refit the rigging.

For free internet access to the full text of Treatise on Twelve Lights, click on the book icon, below left.  The link will take you to the Table of Contents.  This book is interactive, with many hyperlinks, including interactive tables of contents for each chapter – so the reader should feel no compulsion to look at all 1000 pages.  As you peruse, do profit from the many photographs and the audio-visuals.

And please do not keep this project a secret.  By informing others you advance the cause.





Robert Struble, Jr.

Twelve Lights League




online to the
interactive book,
Treatise on Twelve Lights