President Bush doesn’t seem to care that Congress wants a bigger role in guiding the Iraq war. Talking about his plan to send in 20,000 additional troops, he said on “60 Minutes” that he knows Congress can vote against it, “but I’ve made my decision and we’re going forward.”
It is hardly the first time this president has insisted that he is “the decider,” or even the first time he’s used the Constitution to justify it, as Vice President Dick Cheney did when he told Fox News: “The Constitution is very clear that the president is, in fact, under Article 2, the commander in chief.”
But Mr. Cheney told only half the story. Congress has war powers, too, and with 70 percent of Americans now opposed to President Bush’s handling of the war, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, it is becoming more assertive about them. Congress is poised to pass a resolution denouncing the troop increase. Down the line, Congress may well consider mandatory caps on the number of troops in Iraq, or setting a date for withdrawal.
If it does, we may be headed toward a constitutional clash, with the administration trying to read powers into the Constitution — as it has with its “enemy combatant” doctrine and presidential “signing statements” — that the Founders did not put there. The Constitution’s drafters were intent on balancing power so no one branch could drift toward despotism. The system of checks and balances that runs through the document divides the war power between the president and Congress.