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When It Comes to War: Congress is the Decider

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     America is in trouble when its citizens can only hope and pray that its President doesn’t start another war before he leaves office. That is not how the government of the United States is supposed to work.

  • “. . . The power to declare war, including the power of judging the causes of war, is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature . . . the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.”--James Madison, Fourth U.S. President, U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Congressman

 

  • “The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.”--George Washington, First U.S. President and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army

 

  • “[The president's power is] much inferior to [the power of the king]. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the land and naval forces ... while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war.”--Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury

 

  • “[T]he executive should be able to repel and not to commence war.”--Constitutional Convention delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut

 

     The Founding Fathers couldn’t have made it much clearer, so why can’t the Bush Administration understand it?

     In October 2005, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice if the President would be circumventing Congressional authorization if he were to choose military action against Iran or Syria. She gave a non-answer, “I will not say anything that constrains his authority as Commander in Chief.” When Senator Paul Sarbanes pressed her on whether President Bush can take military action without Congressional authorization, she said, “The President never takes any option off the table, and he shouldn’t.” (The Nation, 4/21/06) Evidently, that means the Bush Administration is free to use any option--even if it is unconstitutional.

  • “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.”--Henry A. Kissinger, advisor to George W. Bush, former Secretary of State, Nobel Peace Prize winner and war criminal

 

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  • “I don’t want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers. I think you’ll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war in Iraq.”--Secretary of State Condoleeza, in response to a question on whether the administration would have to return to Congress to seek authorization to use military force outside Iraq’s borders.”--(The Boston Globe 10/20/05)

 

     When Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) reminded Secretary Rice, “Under the Iraq War Resolution, we restricted any military action to Iraq,” and asked her, “So would you agree that if anything were to occur on Syrian or Iranian soil, you would have to return to Congress to get that authorization?” Secretary State Rice replied that the president did not need new authorization.

     So, we have a difference of opinion. On one side we have the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the Supreme Court who say that Congress is “the decider” when it comes to war. On the other side, we have George W. Bush, his neoconservative advisors, and various other enablers who believe that the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief gives him the authority to attack anybody, any where, any time--whether Congress and the American people agree, or not. (I believe that if the Founding Fathers had been looking at draft-dodger George W. Bush across the table, rather than the former Commander of the Continental Armies, George Washington; they might have re-thought that whole President as Commander-in-Chief idea.)

  • “The imperial powers claimed by this Administration are breathtaking in their scope. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues were willing to cede our constitutional authorities to the President prior to the war in Iraq. We’ve seen how that turned out . Congress can’t make the same mistake with respect to Iran. Yet the constant drumbeat we’re hearing out of the Administration, in the press, from think tanks, etc., on Iran eerily echoes what we heard about Iraq.”--Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), The Nation, 4/21/06

 

  • “Reps. De Fazio and and Hinchey [D-NY]offered an amendment to the 2007 Pentagon appropriations bill that would have specifically barred the administration from launching a military attack on Iran without congressional authorization. 158 members of the House voted for it, but 262 voted against and it failed. In other words, a majority of the House seems to have gone on record in favor of letting the president start wars illegally, a fairly discouraging development.”--Matthew Yglesias, 10/4/06

 

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     That occurred when the Rubberstamp Republicans controlled Congress. Now, things have changed--as the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, recently told President Bush, “Calm down Mr. President. Stop with the threats, there’s a new congress in town!

    The new Congress is working to prevent Mr. Bush from starting another war, and even some Republicans are getting in on the act. According to PeaceAction.org.:

    On January 12, 2007, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) offered a resolution (H.J. Res. 14) which states, that unless there is an “attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces,” the President must consult with Congress and receive specific authorization prior to initiating military force against Iran.

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Mick Youther is an American citizen, an independent voter, a veteran, a parent, a Christian, a scientist, a writer, and all-around nice guy who has been aroused from a comfortable apathy by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration.

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