Monday, September 29, 2008

Posse Comitatus

December 14, 2003. Looking back from today’s perspective, that is almost ancient history – or so it seems. This was the day that soldiers under the command of Major General Raymond Odierno captured Saddam Hussein.

Nearly nine months before – March 20 – George Bush had launched U.S. ground and air forces into Iraq to find and destroy Saddam Hussein’s “known” stockpiles of nuclear and chemical weapons and – if not biological agents –mobile biological laboratories. This attack was possible because the administration decided to let Afghanistan take care of itself – and by extension, Osama bin Laden..

The White House, playing off public fears of another attack by extremists, presented a number of proposals they said would improve security at home and overseas. The mantra that gradually came to dominate the administration’s rhetoric was “we must fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” And by this time the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Saddam had been lumped together into the “them.”

That being so, would someone in the administration – and specifically in the Pentagon – care to explain why an active duty brigade combat team will come under the operational control of the Commanding General of Northern Command whose headquarters is “here” in Colorado and not “over there”? Northern Command’s responsibilities, at least as these were delineated when the new command was created in 2004, are to coordinate the DoD contribution to civilian-led recovery and reconstitution of areas after a disaster.

The command is also charged with integrating information from long-range (out to 500 miles) military radars, with other technical sensors and with human intelligence reports to create a comprehensive air and sea early warning system on all shorelines. This is reminiscent of the Cold War era North America Air Defense (NORAD) command whose mission, using designated Air National Guard and Air Reserve units, were “oriented” outward to prevent an enemy from penetrating U.S. airspace.

But in the aftermath of Reconstruction in post-Civil War America, the Posse Comitatus Act (1878) removed federal troops from any role in re-establishing and maintaining domestic tranquility within a state except in instances of insurrection that exceeded the capability of a state’s National Guard and state militia.

To give the Commanding Officer Northern Command operational control of an active duty brigade combat team – like those fighting in Iraq today – is to completely ignore one of the more objectionable practices of the British army in the years before and during the American Revolution: that of “stationing troops among the colonial settlements. The Founders saw this as an attempt to coerce and intimidate the citizenry. Union troops stationed in the former states of the Confederacy during Reconstruction were seen in the same light.

How is this proposal, which takes effect October 1, any different? Bush, right after September 11, 2001, tried to get authority to move troops around the U.S. in response to what he saw as threats. This was one time Congress, bolstered by the state governors, held their ground. Yet here we are about to hand over piecemeal what the executive branch failed to get by frontal assault in 2001-2002. It seems that the president will win another round from Congress after all.

In 2003, General Odierno’s division was seen as too overbearing in its dealings with Iraqis. Well, Odierno is back as the commander of all ground forces in Iraq – and at a time when Iraqis are becoming restless about the continuing U.S. military presence.

I would hazard a guess that the Pentagon has about nine months left in Iraq.

And we wonder why militarism is the dominate philosophy today?


Blogger Momkiss said...

1. We are at War
2. We are under a National Emergencies Act
3. We are in deep _ _ _ _

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11:22 AM  
Anonymous dcrowe said...

Two words: The Rubicon.

I resist saying things like "We are watching the end of the Republic." But there, I said it.

1:37 PM  

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