There is a common misconception held in America that in Oct. 2002, Congress gave the Bush administration a blank check to invade Iraq. Today, two Presidential candidates voted for Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution Of 2002, or P.L. 104-243, and a third has accepted the common misconception. This article is not being written in support of any Presidential candidate. This article is being written for the sole purpose of representing truth, a concept with which the mass media has a problem.
First, a little background to put everything in perspective. Hard to believe, but back in Oct. 2002 President Bush was an extremely popular Commander-in-Chief. He was a war President defying Islamic extremism defined by 9/11. Also, during that period, by and large Americans were thirsty for revenge, the image of the falling towers still very vivid. The last statement is still true today, but this is not the place for the wrong war at the wrong time against the wrong enemy. Suffice to repeat that Bush was quite popular, and for Congress to defy an embattled war President striving for justice in response to 9/11 was largely an impossibility. Many Americans, including this writer, shared those thoughts. Perversely, a small minority aware of the vast intricacies of the Mideast, including this writer, were troubled by one single thought. What did Iraq have to do with 9/11 and al Qa'ida? But that question was a concern for intellectuals while Joe Sixpack and Mary Wonderful were all in favor of giving Bush everything he wanted. This did not go unnoticed by our duly elected representatives in Congress. When one criticizes a leader, to be fair, it is wise to refer to the context of the times, the environment, in which that leader made his/her decision. This applies to the members of Congress who voted for P.L. 104-243.
In the early 1970's, our representatives in Congress were dismayed that our nation had fought two devastating wars without the benefit of a Declaration of War, a prerogative granted Congress in our Constitution to the exclusion of the executive branch. Our representatives also control the purse strings of war. The two wars in question were the Korean War (over 54,000 dead troops) and the Vietnam War (over 55,000 dead troops). As a consequence, Congress passed the War Powers Act over President Nixon's veto in 1973 that severely restricted the President's ability to wage war on his own say so. A key provision of this act is Sec. 5 (b), which basically requires that the president notify Congress within 48 hours of committing troops to military action and forbids troops from remaining for more than 90 days without a declaration of war. Assuming our good Senators did their homework, they were aware of this provision. The entire act can be seen here: http://www.thecre.com/fedlaw/legal22/warpow.htm
To be perfectly candid in this analysis, there was an instance where the good Senators did not do their homework. Two months prior to the Senate vote, the CIA presented a uniquely prophetic NIE. It warned that a U.S. invasion could result in al-Qaeda taking "advantage of a destabilized Iraq to establish secure safe havens from which they can continue their operations.'" It added, "that a U.S. invasion could produce anarchy in Iraq, reduce European confidence in U.S. leadership, expand Iran's influence in the region, destabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, and bolster Islamic hostility toward the United States." Six Senators read the NIE. None were named Hillary Clinton nor John McCain.
So, in compliance with the War Powers Act of 1973, what did these Senators vote on? What did P.L. 104-243 say? After a lot of whereas's the essential part of the resolution passed by Congress said this,
(b) Presidential Determination.--In connection with the exercise of
the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President
shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible,
but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make
available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the
President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that--
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or
other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately
protect the national security of the United States against the
continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to
enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions regarding Iraq.
Setting aside section (b) (1) (B) because it has no bearing on this narrative - in Oct. 2002 there was no U.N. mandate for use of force in Iraq - what this says is that President Bush must show indisputable evidence to Congress that Iraq poses a threat to our national security before use of force is authorized. That would be no small feat, and members of Congress knew that.
Declaring Iraq, militarily devastated by the Gulf War (1991), a threat to the national security of the United States would be a singularly difficult task. The skies above Saddam's Iraq were controlled by the U.S. and British Air Forces via the Northern and Southern No-fly zones. An Iraqi sergeant couldn't pick his nose without our knowing about it. In addition, an American expert, Scott Ritter, Marine captain [ret.] stated openly before hostilities began that Saddam had no WMD's. That they were all destroyed along with the infrastructure to make these dreaded weapons. It should be mentioned that the Marine was a lead weapons inspector in Iraq for eight years following the Gulf War. Captain Ritter's assertions are supported by subsequent U.N. weapons inspection teams. Even Joe and Mary knew there were no WMD's for the simple reason that no evidence existed that warranted believing the opposite was true. It can easily be assumed that members of Congress shared this same insight. It can be argued that voting for P.L. 104-243 was pro forma. In tune with a popular President, but use of force simply won't happen. Iraq a security risk to America was just too farfetched.
What members of Congress did not know -perhaps should have known - was the degree of duplicity and treachery inherent in the Bush administration. What Americans did not know in Oct. 2002, was that the White House and the Pentagon were in the grips of an obscure movement called neoconservatism, and they had a stranglehold on the Presidency. What many did not know at the time is that an intellectually-challenged President was being governed by a group of highly-ranked, highly intelligent individuals, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Feith, and others whose goals included a unitary executive and an American Empire. To America's everlasting chagrin, all of this was learned later. To this day, incredulously, many Americans refuse to believe this about the Presidency despite overwhelming evidence.
And so it began. Using the principle that it is impossible to prove a negative, soon after the passage of P.L. 104-243 the propaganda began. The White House sent out its highly ranked troops, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, even Bush and the disgraced SecState Powell (the only rational member of the bunch and not a neocon) to proclaim from their pulpits that Iraq had WMD's. They created from thin air that Saddam had thousands of barrels of CBW (Chemical/biological Warfare) and that he was in the process of building or acquiring a nuclear weapon. They swore that Saddam was in league with Osama bin Laden, ignoring the rather obvious fact they were, in fact, enemies, deadly enemies. Using David Feith's Office of Special Plans, they cooked the intelligence books produced by our intell agencies. The White House and the Pentagon concocted their own "intelligence" that supported the general plan, American hegemony. Offering no proof for their conjectures, the American citizen was inundated by the accusations and began believing it because if the highest officials in the land keep saying it, over and over again, well, it must be true. The disgraceful performance of Powell before the U.N. Security Council, Feb. 2003, was the last straw. He proved nothing. If anything, he proved that Iraq was a toothless tiger, hardly capable of defending itself let alone attacking the United States.
In Feb. 2003, I became very concerned. He's going to do it. Bush is actually going to invade Iraq. In my Midwestern column that I had at the time, I challenged the Bush administration to provide a casus belli. Unproven conjectures and a conflicting supposition (Saddam/al Qa'ida) were insufficient. Then came March 19, 2003, and America lives in the shadow of an egregious strategic military error that will haunt us for many years to come.
How is all of this relevant today? To criticize members of Congress for their vote in Oct. 2002 is pure folly. We, none of us, knew what we know now. No one knew that the Bush administration would trample all over the very foundation of our government, the U.S. Constitution. The responsibility for this duplicity does not lie with members of Congress. The sole responsibility for this treasonous behavior lies with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.
How else is this relevant? There is mounting concern that Bush will unilaterally attack Iran before his term is over. The military and economic debacle that would follow such an attack is beyond description. It is one thing for pundits to describe such a ridiculous scenario, but when Rep. John Conyers, Jr. is concerned about that threat, it is time for all of us to be concerned. Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thought it prudent to write a letter to the President. In it, he stated,
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to register our strong opposition to possible unilateral, preemptive military action against other nations by the Executive Branch without Congressional authorization. As you know, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power "to declare war," to lay and collect taxes to "provide for the common defense" and general welfare of the United States, to "raise and support armies," to "provide and maintain a navy," to "make rules for the regulation for the land and naval forces," to "provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions," to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia," and to "make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution ... all ... powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States." Congress is also given exclusive power over the purse. The Constitution says, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law."
The entire narrative can be seen here: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/051308A.shtml
It is incumbent on every American, every member of Congress, to know that the ever popular P.L. 104-243 concerned only Iraq. Should Bush use this law to attack Iran, he would be in violation of the Constitution, an impeachable offense. He would also be a criminal, causing the murder of many on foreign soil and an untold number of deaths of Americans who lie across a porous border in Iraq. Not unlike Iraq, there is virtually no casus belli for an attack on Iran.
That, my dear friends, is what we call relevance.
We must quit with the guilt trip on P.L. 104-203 and focus on today and its dangers, not something that happened 5 1/2 years ago.
Author's note: The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (P.L. 107-40) was a joint resolution passed by Congress on September 18 2001, authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determined "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. P.L. 104-40 does not apply to Iran. There is virtually no connection between Iran and 9/11. In actuality, Iran offered her condolences for the treacherous attack and support for the coming war with Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Shi'a Iran is also a bitter enemy of the fundamentalist Islamic Sunni terrorist leader.
Sandy Shanks is the author of The Bode Testament and Impeachment. He is also a retired columnist.