Monday, November 14, 2005

Bush Manipulates History As Well As Intelligence

David Corn takes Pres. Bush's Tobyhanna speech attacking war critics for rewriting history; and writes a point-by-point rebuttal that demolishes Bush's arguments.

Here is Corn's dissection of Bush's claim that Congress authorized the overthrow of Saddam Hussein:

[Bush said:] "When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support."

Actually, Congress did not approve Bush's decision to remove Saddam. In October 2002, the House and Senate approved a resolution that gave Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq if he deemed that appropriate. At the time, Bush and his aides were claiming it was their goal to force Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction and his WMD programs (which, we know now, did not exist). When the resolution passed---and in the weeks after---the White House insisted that Bush was not bent on "regime change" and that he was willing to work within the UN to force Saddam to accept UN inspectors (which Saddam did) in pursuit of the goal of disarming Iraq. Is Bush now saying that he had already resolved to invade Iraq at this point and all his talk about achieving disarmament through the UN process was bunk? Is he rewriting history--or telling us the real truth? In any event, when Bush did order the invasion of Iraq months later in March 2003, he did not ask Congress to vote on his decision to remove Saddam.

There is an even larger issue here than whether Congress authorized Bush to remove Saddam Hussein from power, or whether Congress authorized Bush only to use force to get Hussein to disarm if diplomacy failed. That issue is whether the Constitution allows Bush, or any president, the power to decide on his own to go to war, with Congress being asked merely to approve the decision.

Kevin Drum addresses this point:

Article I, Section 8 of the constitution says flatly that "The Congress shall have Power...To declare War," but no Congress has declared war for the past 60 years. They've passed resolutions, they've passed authorizations, and they've passed budget authorities, but they haven't declared war. The 108th Congress certainly never declared war on Iraq.

There are several problems with this. For starters, it makes a mockery of the constitution. It's legitimate to draw a line beneath which the president can commit troops on his own authority, but there's little question that we've gone well over that line repeatedly in the past decade and a half. By anybody's definition, Gulf I was a war, Kosovo was a war, Afghanistan was a war, and Gulf II was a war. None of them required either secrecy or an instant response that couldn't wait on Congress. In other words, if a declaration of war wasn't required for these conflicts, then Congress's constitutional authority is meaningless. That clause of the constitution might as well not exist.

Second, it gives the president a blank check. Once troops are in the field, no Congress can afford to withhold its support. The reality is that if presidents are allowed to commit large numbers of troops on their own authority, there are essentially no limits to what they can do.

Third, and worst, it allows Congress to evade its own responsibility for war. Did John Edwards really vote for war? Or did he merely vote to authorize coercive inspections? Would he still have voted for the war on March 20 based on what he knew then? Or would the lack of WMD and failed diplomacy have changed his mind?

There's no reason we should have to guess about this. If the president wants to go to war, he should get a declaration of war. Not an "authorization of force" six months before the fact, but a declaration of war a few days before the invasion. Not only is that what the constitution requires, but it also means that members of Congress can no longer play games about what their vote really meant. After all, a declaration of war can hardly be misinterpreted.

Reserving the power to declare war with Congress is an essential part of the American system of checks and balances -- which is what Kevin alludes to when he writes about giving the president a blank check.

As one of Kevin's readers comments, one wonders why the conservative strict-constructionist worshippers of original intent and constitutional literalism haven't been loudly objecting to such a blatant example of executive activism.

4 comments:

Chief said...

I read your post and then Kevin Drum's post about Habeas Corpus including links to Obsidian Wings and several thoughts come to mind:

1. These issues are far to complicated for the average American to deal with.

2. These issues are just too damn depressing. Put Alito on top of this and we are back to 1215 AD.

3. Will anybody believe this (anybody in the US)? The rest of the world does.

4. ??????????

Chief said...

Cathy,

Feelin' a wee bit better. Maha has some poll numbers from CNN. Smaller numbers look better. :-)

Kathy said...

I'm going to depress you even more. I think that things are going to get much worse before they get better. I don't think we're even close to the darkest level yet.

And Europe isn't even an option anymore, given the escalating violence there. That's terrifying, too.

At this point, Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand look like possibilities.

Chief said...

Not reached "the darkest level yet."

Well, I suppose that when "they" are losing they will resort to any lie, any deception to maintain power, so I suppose it could get worse, but I hope not a lot worse.

Alito would be absolutely horrible.

Don't really think Mrs. Chief would entertain the idea of emigrating and becoming an ex-pat.