Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bush, Congress, Iraq, and Iran

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Does anyone else find it interesting how the saber-rattling on Iran seems to be getting louder as the near-constitutional crisis between Congress and the White House on Iraq continues to heat up? Take a look at this snapshot of Memeorandum from early this morning.

Barack Obama continues to underwhelm me. His "de-escalation and phased redeployment" plan would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for another year, and would allow Pres. Bush to keep them there even longer if Iraq meets 13 "benchmarks." One could argue there isn't much chance these benchmarks could all be achieved -- some of them, like the requirement that Iraq "spend not less than $10 billion for reconstruction, job creation, and economic development without regard for the ethnic or sectarian make-up of Iraqi regions," seem quite unrealistic. And the requirement that steps be taken to "prevent" humanitarian catastrophe or wider regional conflict are kind of bizarre, given that both are already realities.

This is a classic "centrist" plan: it's cautious, timid, trying to please everyone, and likely to please no one. Plus its success hinges on Pres. Bush's good faith: If he refuses to allow the troops to come home according to the schedule, what good is the law? Only denying Bush money to continue the war will stop him, and only three Democrats are supporting that option.

Kevin Drum makes the additional point that Obama's proposed legislation won't stand up to constitutional scrutiny:

Here's the thing: I know that there's a lot of chatter right now about exactly what Congress's war powers are, but I honestly think that everyone talking about this already knows the basic answer: Congress can declare war, it has certain military rulemaking powers, and it can fund and defund a war. But that's it. Like it or not, Congress simply doesn't have the power to manage specific operational aspects of a war. Big Tent Democrat made the case for this a couple of weeks ago, and I think it's pretty convincing.

Now, this is not a problem. Anyone who seriously wants us to withdraw from Iraq merely needs to introduce legislation defunding the war. Even Dick Cheney agrees that Congress can do this. But Obama's description of his legislation very carefully avoids any mention of funding other than to explicitly say that it "does not affect the funding for our troops in Iraq." ... Without that, he must know that his legislation is almost certainly futile.

Glenn Greenwald, however, makes a persuasive case that Congress does have the authority to compel Pres. Bush to end the war. In fact, he argues that Republicans in Congress did exactly that to end the U.S. military involvement in Somalia when Bill Clinton was president:

Russ Feingold today is chairing a Committee hearing in order to demonstrate that Congress has the Constitutional authority to compel the President to withdraw troops from Iraq, a power that is not merely confined to cutting off appropriations. Sen. Feingold is holding the hearing in the face of claims -- mostly from Congressional Republicans and their supporters -- that only the President has the power to make determinations about troop deployments, and Congress' only power is one of appropriations.

Back in September, when Chris Wallace falsely accused Bill Clinton of emboldening the Terrorists by prematurely cutting-and-running from Somalia (a favorite right-wing meme), it was documented here (as Clinton himself pointed out to Wallace) that it was actually Republican Senators who forced Clinton to withdraw troops by imposing troop withdrawal deadlines on him and threatening further restrictions on his ability to keep troops there. But if one goes back and reviews that debate, it is quite striking that Republicans back then certainly did not seem to believe that Congress lacked the ability to restrict the President's power to deploy troops. They argued exactly the opposite - that they had that power -- and they used it to force Clinton out of Somalia (all excerpts are available here, by searching "Somalia)[.]

As a practical matter,though -- as I pointed out above -- Congress's authority means nothing if the Executive Branch chooses to defy it, which this administration has done as a matter of course. In my view, only one thing will stop the war, and that is defunding it.

No comments: