New “Baker-Christopher Commission” to Probe Constitutional Power Allocations on War-Starting, War-Waging, and War-Ending


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(Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Washington Moroccan Club President Hassan Samrhouni, and Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III)
The University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs — of which Philip Zelikow used to serve as Director before becoming Condi Rice’s Counselor — has announced the creation of a bipartisan commission that “will examine how the Constitution allocates the powers of beginning, conducting, and ending war.”
Former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher will co-chair this enterprise.
Regarding non-traditional wars, the Miller Center announcement states:

When armed conflict is looming, debates about separation of powers and the uncertainty they often generate can impair relations among the branches of government, cast doubt on the legitimacy of government action, and prevent focused attention on policy. Armed conflicts with non-state actors and other non-traditional “wars,” as well as the courts’ involvement in war powers questions, make the Commission’s work relevant.

It will be important for the Commission to deal squarely and up-front with non-traditional wars as well as the ability of the President to issue “findings” ordering covert military action, military actions that are not officially called wars but often seem worse, and conflict conducted through proxies armed, funded, and virtually commanded by the White House and Pentagon. This group, it it is to be taken seriously, needs to consider the “privatization of war” and the many players — not just on the other side of conflict but on our own side — that are mercenaries hired to perform military and security functions.
Traditional war is not something about which there should be much concern on the Constitutional front. What is worrisome in 21st century conflict and Constitutional legitimacy are all the gray areas that have emerged and which power centers are exploiting.
On the Commission will be:

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III co-chair
Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher co-chair
Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton
Former Member of Congress Lee Hamilton
Former US Trade Representative Carla Hills
Former Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh Jr.
Former US Attorney General Edwin Meese III
Former Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals Abner Mikva
Former Commander-in-Chief of the US Atlantic Fleet J. Paul Reason
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft
Woodrow Wilson School/Princeton University Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter
Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott

Doris Kearns Goodwin will serve as “historical adviser” to the Baker-Christopher Commission, and Andrew Dubill, Juliana Bush, and W. Taylor Reveley IV will staff the project.
I had the pleasure of participating in a small dinner hosted by the Stanley Foundation on Monday evening with featured speaker Philip Zelikow, who offered a fascinating talk about the limits and opportunities of deployed force and power in today’s world. I get the sense from his speech, which I may write about another time, that Zelikow is crafting a major article informed by his experience as one of the key players in the Bush administration’s national security bureaucracy on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to state-building, wars, and transnational institution building.
As a friendly nudge to the project, i think that the Baker-Christopher Commission is making a mistake by not inviting Zelikow to serve as one of its members. While I don’t agree with all of his views, Zelikow is one of the few power players in this G.W. Bush era who has thought deeply about America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how these have seriously shaken and, in some cases, confused and bewildered legal experts whose frames were guided by experience with more normal, classic wars than we are engaged in today.
Two other good resources for the Commission would be the incumbent Legal Adviser to Condi Rice, John B. Bellinger III, and the previous occupant of his job, William Howard Taft IV, who have both had to struggle with the legal mess of these wars — and who both did battle with Cheney’s staff on everything from authorizations for war and the treatment (and potential torture) of prisoners.
— Steve Clemons


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