Friday, January 26, 2007

Who said it

As has been said before, Montana Headlines is provincial, perhaps parochial, in its focus.

In general, one doubts that anyone is listening when Montana bloggers slug it out over foreign policy issues, so it will be avoided in general on Montana Headlines except where it applies to the election of Montana's U.S. Senators and Representative. But occasionally in the midst of the din, a conservative Republican can feel compelled to remind other conservative Republicans of the party heritage.

As readers may have guessed, the quotation in "Who said this?" is not from one of the usual liberal sources, whose primary interest in the Iraq war seems to have been more the stuff of politics than of principle.

The statesman speaking is Senator Robert Taft, R-Ohio, giving the speech in the Senate in response to Democrat President Harry Truman's State of the Union address of 1951. The speech came immediately to mind when listening to Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, give the rebuttal immediately after President Bush's 2007 State of the Union Address. In it, Webb quoted approvingly the words of Republican presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, regarding the need to end President Truman's war in Korea.

The parallels and contrasts were ironic, to say the least.

Taft's words reflect his conviction that the foreign policy of the U.S. is the business of the Congress -- and of the U.S. Senate in particular. Among other Article I, Section 8 provisions, it is the Constitutional responsibility of Congress to declare war, the Constitutional responsibility of the Senate to ratify treaties, and the Constitutional responsibility of Congress to raise and support armies.

Taft's words are a reminder of a very different time of Republican policy, one in which war was viewed as something that tended to endanger domestic liberty and squander national blood and treasure. They come from a time when the Democratic party was the War Party, and had been so in three consecutive wars (and the Democrat's pièce de résistance, Vietnam, had yet to begin.)

There has always been a "war gap" in the polls of the last half-dozen years, with more people voting for President Bush than supported the war in Iraq. The reasons for this should be fairly obvious: President Clinton had proven in Bosnia, Kosovo, and continued action in Iraq that the Democrat penchant for military action hadn't particularly waned, as long it was their idea to do the killing.

Even if one could be assured that the Democrat war leopard would change its spots, the specter of more Ginsburgs and Breyers twisting the text of the Constitution on the Supreme Court, more persecution of anti-abortion activists under RICO laws, more confiscatory taxes levied on one group of Americans to be used to buy the votes of another group of Americans, and the entire gamut of leftist politics hardly left one convinced that Al Gore or John Kerry would be any less destructive to our domestic polity than were the wars of the Presidents Bush.

It should of course be remembered that the efficacy of Congressional oversight of the executive branch's use of military power depends in no small part on the prudence and patriotism of members of Congress. The fact that the current Congress may or may not possess either is not a reason for Republicans to argue that Congress should be silent and follow the President. It may be a reason to vote out imprudent members of Congress of both parties, but is not a reason to demand that Congress be restricted in carrying out its Constitutional duties (or to allow Congress to shirk its Constitutional military and foreign policy duties, as has also often been the case.)

It is no accident that Senator Taft, nicknamed "Mr. Republican," won the admiration of his colleagues. As an earlier post on this site pointed out, Taft was one of President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," and then Senator Kennedy advocated that Taft's portrait be one of the 5 portraits to hang in the Senate chambers as being one of the 5 most influential Senators in the history of the body.

There is not a better way to conclude this post than with a final quotation from Senator Taft, Mr. Republican, as he wrote in 1951 about the foreign policy legacy of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman:

If in the great field of foreign policy the President has the arbitrary and unlimited powers he now claims, then there is an end to freedom in the United States not only in the foreign field but in the great realm of domestic activity which necessarily follows any foreign commitments. The area of freedom at home becomes very circumscribed indeed.