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Tie the President's Hands Regarding Making War on Iran

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There are many things that Congress is called upon to do to deal with this disastrous and dangerous presidency. But one of them surely is the real possibility that the Bushite regime is planning, on its own, to initiate yet another war, this time against Iran. I will not rehearse here the various pieces of evidence that lend credence to the suspicion that the Bushites are planning such a war-- from the carrier groups and Patriot missiles they are sending to the region to the threats being voiced from the Oval Office. Suffice it to say that it would be foolish for the Congress or the American people to assume that the president won't start a war with Iran. It would be foolish as well to suppose that this White House will feel obliged, before executing such a decision, to respect the rights and powers and opinions of others, such as the legislative branch of government. It is imperative that the Congress act now to tie the president's hands by asserting its constitutional authority over matters of war and peace. Specifically, the Congress should pass a binding resolution that requires the president to get approval from Congress before taking any military action against Iran. The arguments for doing so are compelling, and they are of two kinds. The first argument is practical. These Bushites have already shown themselves conspicuously unqualified to make such decisions well on their own. They have shown, with their war of choice in Iraq, an excessive willingness to use war to achieve their purposes: thus, the decision on whether or not Iran's nuclear program is a problem that warrants using military means to address is one with which they cannot be trusted. Moreover, these Bushites have shown themselves, in Iraq, incapable of managing well the forces that they unleash with their warmaking. Together, these two disabilities have created what is perhaps the greatest diplomatic/military blunder in the history of the United States. They should not be granted the space to commit yet another. The second argument is constitutional. The Constitution declares: "Congress shall have the declare war." The president may be "commander-in-chief," but it is unambiguous that the decision to enter a state of war with another nation is to be made not by that single executive but by the collective will of the many elected representatives of the people residing in the legislative branch of government. It has been over sixty years since the last time Congress formally declared war (after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941), but surely the constitutional delegation of the right to declare war must still mean something. And what it means is that an unforced war is something that the executive isn't supposed to decide on his own. The commander-in-chief may have the authority to deal with emergencies, like repelling an immediate attack. But the decision to attack when no immediate, emergency action is required-- that decision does not rest with our self-declared "Decider" but with the Congress. Congress must now so assert that right, compelling the Decider to recognize Congress as a co-equal branch and to repudiate his assertions of unchecked and dictatorial powers or to face a constitutional show-down with Congress. Those arguments seem irresistable, but I can imagine that some will argue that it will injure the interests of the United States to tie the president's hands in this way. Some might argue, for example, that the Bush administration is not actually planning to wage a war against Iran, but only to threaten it in order to get the Iranians to back down from their present course toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The response to this is that the Bushites have been making their threats for a good while now, and if it's a bluff there is absolutely no sign that it's working. The Iranians are not backing down, and there's so reason to expect that they are going to. And if that's the case, then a bluff is of no value-- indeed it's of worse than no value because any player whose bluff gets called is diminished thereafter. But besides, as said before, we would be foolish to assume that the Bushite threat is only a bluff. A second objection might be that the threat to American and world security from a regime like Iran's is a major one, and that it is counter-productive to disable the president from acting to remove that threat. That argument falls on the face of it. If the threat is serious enough to warrant being dealt with militarily, then presumably the members of Congress should be persuadable to authorize the use of such force. If Congress does not think the threat so dangerous, or the likely efficacy of military means to counter that threat so great, as to warrant going to war to deal with it, why should we regret that this President can't decide otherwise on his own? Particularly in view of the abysmal record of this administration's handling of matters of war and peace in the last five years, why should we want such a decision to be made by Bush and Cheney rather than by our elected Congress, which likely has better judgment and is more responsive apparently to the will of the people? A final note: At the least, therefore, the decision on whether or not to use military force against Iran should be firmly and explicitly taken out of the hands of the self-described Decider who has shown so little capability for making such decisions well. But beyond that, it is entirely arguable that this decision itself should be postponed until a new commander-in-chief is in place. American intelligence, reportedly, foresees that it will be at least several more years before Iran will be capable of developing actual nuclear weapons. In other words, there is evidently more than enough time before some point of no return is reached for a new American president to be elected and take office. Why would we not want to wait, if we can, for what American history suggests is almost certain to be a wiser and more trustworthy president takes office before making the decision on whether to go to war, and possibly unleashing the huge potential for disorder that war inevitably creates? As William Rivers Pitt has written recently, in its war-making in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "brain-trust surrounding Mr. Bush [has], at virtually every turn, made the exact wrong decision at every available opportunity." Why would we not want to tie this president's hands, not only taking the decision away from the Decider, but possibly also postponing the decision --and the possible execution of a war such a decision might entail-- until another pair of hands takes the helm?
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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