Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Executive Warmaking, Then and Now

After President Obama's "kinetic military action" utilized our military to attack a foreign enemy without Congress passing a declaration of war (indeed, without the President adhering to the even more lenient War Powers Act), people have been comparing him to something of a king, instead of a constitutionally limited chief executive.

Which is why the following passage jumped out at me as I was reading through the Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Agincourt (which I hear was like bringing a knight to a longbow fight):

Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. He claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands (the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny).[7] He initially called a Great Council in the spring of 1414 to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further and moderate his claims. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1.6 million crowns outstanding from the ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany and Flanders, as well as Aquitaine. Henry would marry Princess Catherine, the young daughter of Charles VI, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By 1415 negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself.[8] In December 1414, the English parliament was persuaded to grant Henry a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to recover his inheritance from the French. On 19 April 1415, Henry again asked the Great Council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed.[9]

Indeed.  Now, I'm not familiar enough with England's history to know if this was typical pre-Glorious Revolution.  I know the history between the sovereign and the people is contentious enough, including a civil war and regicide.  But I do find it very interesting that Henry V sought approval from the Great Council (the equivalent of parliament at the time, as far as I understand) before going to war with France over abrogation of the Treaty of Bretigny (itself an interesting item of history that saw the King of France giving over his princes as collateral for his personal ransom from an English prison).

Contrast this with our current President, theoretically more strictly bound by our formal Constitution, who claims broad authority to conduct war (and war it is, despite his semantic games), without seeking approval from, or even giving later counsel to, the Congress.

Bonus observation: It will be especially interesting to see if the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force is trotted out as an authorization to attack Syria, given the wording of the authorization and the fact that some rebel forces in Syria have been identified with al Qaeda.