Monday, February 19, 2007

Congress, Then and Now

From today's Novak column:

[Congressman Jack Murtha] could not keep quiet the secret Democratic strategy that he had forged for the promised "second step" against President Bush's Iraq policy (after the "first step" of a nonbinding resolution of disapproval). In an interview last Thursday with the antiwar Web site, he revealed plans to put conditions on funding of U.S. troops. His message: I am running this show.

Murtha has shaped party policy that would cripple Bush's Iraq troop surge by placing conditions on funding. That represents the most daring congressional attempt to micromanage ongoing armed hostilities since the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War challenged President Abraham Lincoln.

The Joint Committee on Conduct of the War was established in 1861, and operated through 1865. Interestingly enough, the stated purpose of the committee during that time was

a way for the legislative branch to check and monitor executive direction of the war. There were a number of different ways in which the committee tried to control President Lincolns (sic) direction of military affairs. In some cases, the committee supplied popular daily newspapers with secret testimony to sway public opinion in its direction. Individual committee members often made speeches before the House or Senate to advance the committees (sic) point of view. Finally, through the release of its official reports, the committee hoped to sway public opinion in favor of the Republican war program. In this latter regard, the committees (sic) most notable successes were in the area of war-time propaganda, particularly with the publication of its reports on the treatment of Union prisoners of war and the Fort Pillow massacre. Intended to portray the Southern as backward and benighted, these reports were important morale building tools.

Overall, when gauging the effectiveness of the committee during the Civil War, historian Bruce Tap wrote

"[B]ecause of its collective ignorance of military science and preference for the heroic saber charge, "the committee tended to reinforce the unrealistic and simplistic notions of warfare that prevailed in the popular mind."

President Harry Truman ran a committee similar in purpose during the Second World War when he served in Congress; rather than question tactics or commanders in the field, the Truman Committee, as it came to be called, identified ways to make the management of war materiel and resources more effective, effectively transition industry onto a war footing, and eliminate government fraud, waste and abuse. The Truman Committee is credited with saving billions of dollars, and many believe it set the foundation for the United States to triumph during the war.

When people look at the actions taken in Congress today, it is easy to begin wondering where this legislative body will ultimately reside in the annals of American history. Will the long debate on nonbinding resolutions, improbable tactical solutions, and plans to end a conflict not through debate, but by clamping the purse strings on planned troop deployments, find itself referenced in the same paragraphs of the Truman Committee? Or will the actions heretofore taken consign this Congress to be referred to along with their well meaning, inept, obstructionist counterparts during the American Civil War?

Time will tell.


Tiger said...

I'm not sure I want to wait for history to judge these guys, Bob W.

I prefer Truman's method rather than the other. Congress should be working hard to find ways to WIN, not sabotage the effort.

sexy said...