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What the new president will need

September 13, 2008|By ROBERT GARY

There's about half a chance that November will see a landslide victory for one side or the other. I mean a victory where both houses of Congress get carried along with the top of the ticket.

So now you have a government with no excuse to fail; it controls the House, the Senate and the White House. That's a lot of political capital. How should it be spent, if the election comes out with a really strong mandate for one side or the other? Here's my answer.

For Obama, it would be a Revised War Powers Act. This would cover any future initiative by a U.S. president to put boots on the ground in combat roles for any purpose other than hostage rescue of U.S. diplomats. This would be for wars, not for Delta Force hostage recovery operations.

To apply for authorization from the Congress to conduct a war, the president would have to provide concise and precise answers to these questions: 1. Who needs to be killed? 2. What needs to be broken? 3. Where are they (or it) located? 4. How long will it take to do the job? 5. What constitutes "winning"? 6. What constitutes "losing"? 7. How many service personnel will be required? 8. When will they return home?

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It may seem like a simplistic list of eight questions, but here's who stands behind it: Thucydides, Justinian, Machiavelli, Grotius and Clausewitz - the ones who can teach us about the art of war.

So, actually the questions reflect what the world has learned about proper deliberation before going to war. It's necessary for war powers to be exercised wisely and it's OK to legislate so that more wisdom is brought into our government. If these questions can't be answered, maybe it's not time to go to war.

The president can refuse to fill out the questionnaire, but if he doesn't fill it out ... no money for his warmaking project! His project becomes a wish/dream, but not part of the reality that all Americans and all humans have to live with. It's a non-starter.

With this legislation, wars would either be well-founded or they would be nonstarters. Well-founded means at least we all know what we are trying to do, how big it's going to be, how long it's going to last, how we'll know if we've "won" or "lost." We could call this management by objectives - or maybe just Congress doing its job, as specified in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution.

For McCain, it would be an enhanced McCain-Feingold Act which would include the following provision. Every "earmark" in a bill enacted by Congress shall be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States.

After the completion of such investigation, the Attorney General will personally sign, (or not), a certificate of uprightness saying "This earmark is not a case of vote-buying" or words to that effect. These certificates will be forwarded to the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate, who would delete funding of any earmark in bills that do not get a certificate of uprightness signed by the attorney general.

Since McCain's people would largely control the Congress if he got a landslide victory, they would be the ones to confirm the incoming attorney general. They could make very detailed inquiries during the confirmation process that assure absolutely that the future holder of that office would be 100 percent ready, willing, and able, to perform the specified investigations, review the results with care, and sign (or not) the certificates of uprightness as appropriate.

This means declining to sign if the "earmark" is a case of vote-buying, as disclosed by the FBI's report and by the recommendation of a committee within the Department of Justice composed entirely of career civil servants, no political appointees, and evenly balanced between Republican and Democratic members.

We want every earmark investigated and an attorney general at the top of the decision-making process who is committed to eradicating corruption from the Federal legislative process. Vote-buying is always a felony. The U.S. Constitution, Article I Section 6, makes an exception for felonies (and breach of the peace, and treason). So investigate, report, assess, consider, and certify, and if the "earmark" provision is nonseverable, maybe the entire bill goes unfunded.

So, how is this going to lower my taxes if these little certificates and bothersome questionnaires circulate around in Washington D.C? Here's how. With only well-founded wars that have precisely specified objectives, you get a lot fewer wars. This frees up a not-fought-wars dividend. You decide how your money is spent, not DOD.

If we get away from special-favors (earmarks) based legislation, and get value-added-based legislation, at least your tax money isn't squandered on gifts to felons and corrupters. The text of the bills coming out of Congress will be based on the representative government concept and not on the bought-and-paid for government concept. Your taxes will be more the way you want them, and less the way the lobbyists on K Street want. If Congress were clean, they would feel like they had a hot shower with deodorant soap. Cleanliness is next to Godliness; John and Sarah can get them headed in the right way.

Robert Gary is a Hagerstown resident and retired attorney who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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