Mar 3, 2007
One of the issues raised by the GOP and wavering Democrats against imposing restrictive conditions and/or cutting funding for the war in Iraq is the notion that Congress should not interfere with the President's power to conduct a war.
Some people might favor a system of government where the Executive is supreme in foreign policy and conducting wars. However, that system does not exist under the laws of the United States.
One of my many issues with the Democrats' rather timid approach on Iraq is that they don't appear to have a clear understanding of what Congress' role is with respect to foreign policy and war powers. Under the US Constitution, Congress has the power to declare war, to appropriate funds, ratify treaties, and to conduct oversight. The President's role is to serve Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, but is subject to Congressional oversight. The War Powers Act passed during the post-Watergate era, also attempts to clarify and preserve Congress' authority in the area of foreign policy and war.
Clearly, the Framers intended that the branches be co-equal in the conduct of foreign policy and war. The intent was that each branch should be able to check the other in the event that either was not serving the interests of the nation. In this case, we have an out of control President who is bent on pursuing a failed policy to the detriment of the nation. It is Congress' role to check this President and reign him in using the means available at its disposal.
If Congress tells the Defense Department that they cannot buy $500 toilet seats, the Defense Department cannot do it except in violation of the law. Similarly, if Congress tells Bush that no money will be appropriated for a military unit to be sent to Iraq unless and until units are given the proper training in accordance with then-existing (and not subsequently modified) training protocols, then Bush has to comply, or he will be in violation of the law (and he won't get the money in my hypo).
Congress has intervened many times to define the scope of US military involvement, to make adjustments to policies during the middle of a conflict or to directly intervene in how Defense approprations are spent. The examples include the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, Somalia, Bosnia, and even Iraq (Bush obtained Congressional authorization. In his view, the war would not have been legal unless the Congress gave its consent). [I would also note that the American Revolution was run by the Continental Congress with George Washington as the appointed General. There was no President or chief executive at that time. That arrangement seemed to work out just fine even though the 13 colonies faced a much stronger and better funded adversary].
Rather than assert some phony issue of deference to the Chief Executive in a time of war, the wavering Democrats and GOP members should be forced to admit that they simply don't have the political will to do what the people demand. If anti-war Dems would start this argument within the party, it would go a long way to breaking the myths that divide us. There is simply no excuse for Democrats to avoid taking an aggressive approach and to pass laws and budgets that force Bush to prove every step of the way that he is doing right by the troops. Only Congress can make him do it. This Congress had better do it, or there will be real consequences for the country and for the Democratic Party's prospects in 2008.