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Can we back up
by Jim Babka
Claim #3: One of our radio ads claims that a congressional declaration of war is needed to invade Iraq, but doesn't Bush have that already?
War on Iraq would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution—particularly as the Founders intended it. The Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8, specifically reserves to Congress the exclusive power to make war. The President can commit no hostile act against another nation without a formal Declaration of War by Congress. Traditionally, the only acceptable violation of that provision would be for the President to commit troops to repel a hostile invasion of the United States (an event that has never happened).
Has Congress declared war on Iraq? The answer is no. If President Bush attacks Iraq without a clear grant of congressional authority he will be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. And if the Congress goes along with that, they too will be in breach of the supreme law of the land.
But didn't Congress pass a resolution authorizing the President "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions"? Yes they did. But Congress passes hundreds of resolutions every year. Some of the resolutions call for days or months of recognition: National Postage Stamp Day, National Day of Prayer, and Black History Month have all been the subject of past resolutions. A few years ago Congressmen Steve Largent convinced his colleagues to pass a resolution calling for the complete scrapping of the U.S. Income Tax code, replacing it with a more equitable tax system by 2002. Of course, everyone voted for it, because it didn't mean anything; it was symbolic. And we still have the Income Tax code.
A resolution is merely a sense of the body—like taking a poll. In this case it gave the President a bargaining chip, making clear to Saddam Hussein that our government meant business. But it's not a Declaration of War. Any Congressional resolution that allows the President to act without the authority granted him in the Constitution is clearly unconstitutional, and thus null and void.
Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) is known as one of the most principled defenders of the Constitution in the U.S. House. For Paul, doing things the right way has a practical value. Back in October he said:
The process by which we've entered wars over the past 57 years, and the inconclusive results of each war since that time, are obviously related to Congress' abdication of its responsibility regarding war, given to it by Article I Section 8 of the Constitution… Many Americans have been forced into war since that time on numerous occasions, with no congressional declaration of war and with essentially no victories. We're still in Korea and we're still fighting the Persian Gulf War that started in 1990… Congress is about to circumvent the Constitution and avoid the tough decision of whether war should be declared by transferring this monumental decision-making power regarding war to the President. Once again, the process is being abused. Odds are, since a clear-cut decision and commitment by the people through their representatives are not being made, the results will be as murky as before. We will be required to follow the confusing dictates of the UN, since that is where the ultimate authority to invade Iraq is coming from—rather than from the American people and the U.S. Constitution.
A resolution simply won't do—especially in this exceptional case, where there is no immediate danger to the U.S. of an invasion or an attack. A formal Declaration (as Paul just described it) means that your Congressman or Congresswoman, and your Senators, would have to make an affirmative decision—after evidence has been presented and the issue has been debated—that we must attack another nation. They can't merely pass the buck to the President. It's not their buck to pass. But that is exactly what the War Powers Act tries to do.
By way of analogy, let's assume you've just rented your home to someone. Does that mean the renter now has the authority to dispose of the property in any way he pleases? Let's say he sublets the property to someone else who holds loud, all-night parties that annoy the neighbors and damage your house. Did your tenant automatically have the right to assign his rights to someone else? Unless that right was given him in the written lease you signed with him, he has no such authority.
The case really isn't different with Congress and the President. Each of those branches of government has specific powers, granted by you and I, the people, via the Constitution. Congress simply doesn't have a blanket assignment clause allowing it to delegate any of its powers to the President. Your Congressperson can't play hot potato. And the President, who took an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution, shouldn't accept any responsibility not given him in the Constitution—not if he claims to believe in it.
And that's why we're making a big deal about a Declaration of War. As Congressman Paul pointed out, when Congress isn't accountable, the mission is never completed. This is yet another evidence of the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. As it stands right now, many House and Senate members who supported the resolution would not support a Declaration of War because they don't want to be held specifically accountable. Senator Biden (D-DE), for example, said that he'd like to see a UN resolution approving force before we go to war. As it stands right now, if things go poorly, your representative and Senators can simply blame the President. The wording of the resolution allows them to say that the President had the authority, but that he acted rashly, or too soon, or used it in the wrong way.
We doubt the military campaign will go badly. Iraq has been decimated by constant bombings and an embargo. But there's no guarantee of that, because there may be a great deal of house-to-house fighting. What if things do go badly? Do our men and women in uniform deserve a divided government? Since this war is based on prospective threats and possible terrorist activity, shouldn't we also be considering the potential quagmire it could become?
A bill exists in both the House and the Senate calling for the President to stop and consult Congress again. The House version, co-authored by Congressman Ron Paul, actually calls upon the President to seek a formal Declaration of War. Since so much is at stake, why shouldn't the Constitution apply just as much in this situation as it does with regard to freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, or the right to a speedy trial in which you can confront your accusers?
For further reading: Constitutional scholar agrees that Bush needs a Declaration of War to attack Iraq