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Nichols: Some major problems await next president

POSTED: September 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The problems facing our government are not just leadership, although our political leaders do influence the way we seek answers to our problems. I think the most important sources of current problems are institutional rather than personal.

The U.S. Constitution sets up an important balance of power with checks built into the restraints of one part of our government over another part.

For example, our president is commander in chief of all our military forces, yet he does not have the power to declare war. Only the Congress can declare war. Yet Congress has not declared war since Dec. 8, 1941. The president can lead us into police actions like Korea or Vietnam, and Congress votes the money for our troops in those actions.

I believe Congress should take back its war-declaring power and tell the president that Congress insists on its original Constitutional oversight of the executive branch. It should require him to follow President Roosevelt’s example of requesting a declaration of war, giving Congress the task of debating the issue fully before putting our country on a wartime basis and authorizing the sending of our military into harm’s way.

Further, police actions should not be the sole responsibility of the United States and our allies. Instead, I suggest that the U.S. should take a long hard look at the charter of the United Nations. That basic document created only one organ that could pass law-like decisions that must be obeyed: The UN Security Council.

That council can make recommendations but only its decisions must be obeyed. To enforce those decisions, the U.N. Charter provides that member states of the U.N. should set aside earmarked troops, to be led by top officers from the big five permanent members: Russia, China, France, Great Britain and the U.S. Those big five all have veto power, so no action could ever be taken by the U.N. peacekeeping troops against them.

The veto was inserted into the U.N. Charter at the insistence of the United States. We did not want the U.S. to fail to ratify the U.N. Charter the same way we failed to join the former League of Nations created at the end of World War I.

The earmarked troops would not be a standing U.N. army. Components would remain as part of local military establishments. They would be mobilized only after the U.N. Security Council called them into action.

These U.N. troops were never established. Reason: Cold War distrust between the U.S. and the USSR.

NATO was created to prevent further Soviet military moves into western countries of Europe and elsewhere. The Soviets created the Warsaw Pact as a response to NATO. It no longer exists.

I think the recent invasion by Russian troops into Georgia shows how little leverage we have to stop Russian military actions we don’t like. Since Russians seem to see NATO as an enemy organization, I do not see any possibility of Russia joining NATO.

I realize that the possibility of U.N. military cooperation is not likely. But I do believe that we should begin to think about looking at that unused part of the U.N. Charter that could be examined to see if it might be brought back to life.

I believe the next president’s greatest problems may not mainly involve military situations like Iraq or Afghanistan, though finding a way to end those two conflicts will certainly involve much of his concern. We face a major economic crisis.

Our national debt is now more than $9.6 trillion. The president and Congress seem to ignore the problem of payback. For years, our government has not had enough income from taxes to pay the expenses of all governmental operations. Politicians seem to like cutting taxes while not cutting an equal amount of expenditures and our debt increases daily.

Soon, when baby boomers retire, Social Security might not have enough income to cover payments. Medicare expenses will also increase as we grow older. We thus have an immediate and a near future economic crises that could be devastating.

I suggest the next president might propose a commission to study our governmental structure like the Hoover Commission, which studied our government from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955. This commission could examine the possible long-term consequences of our military and economic problems.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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