- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

For the last several weeks, Congress has demonstrated time and again why the Constitution’s Framers denied it the power to wage, rather than declare, war.

It is, of course, clear that the Democratic Caucus in both the House and the Senate opposes the president’s proposed troop surge in Iraq. The problem is that these aspiring commanders in chief cannot agree on an alternative — whether it be an immediate withdrawal, a phased drawdown, some other form of U.S. forces redeployment or simply a non-binding resolution effectively censuring the president for his efforts to win the war. All of this has been good political theater, but there are enormously consequential policy and constitutional issues lurking in the wings.

Despite the Senate’s wrangling, some sort of resolution criticizing the president’s new Iraq strategy and demanding a U.S. disengagement will almost certainly pass. The president is equally certain to ignore any such non-binding resolution. We can then anticipate a rising tide of demands for binding action, first in the context of the supplemental defense appropriations bills being considered this spring and by fall, when dealing with the regular defense appropriations. These will most likely take the form of efforts to limit troop levels and to constrain the use of American forces in ongoing Iraqi military operations — as a means of forcing the Iraqi army to stand up. In addition to being strategically disastrous, these efforts to take over management of the Iraq war would be constitutionally illegitimate.

Although the Bush administration’s critics have often observed that the Framers did not create a king-like president (Mr. Bush’s supposed aspirations to the purple have become almost gospel in certain segments of the Democrat base), they usually neglect to mention that the American constitutional scheme equally eschews the notion of an all powerful legislature. The Constitution mandated a separation of powers. The president does not work for Congress anymore than Congress works for the president. They all work for the electorate.

When it came to the use of military force, however, the Framer’s gave the president both the power and responsibility to run the nation’s wars. He is commander in chief, and the tactical, operational and strategic decisions attendant to armed conflict are for him alone. This includes the determination whether or not to reinforce the American garrison at Baghdad in an effort to restore law and order to that city.

Congress can, of course, check the president in his exercise of these powers — by cutting off funding for the war. This is clearly an ax rather than a scalpel. However, the Framers would not have been phased by congressional complaints that this is a politically difficult and costly alternative. They intended the president to have the initiative in military affairs — especially when Congress has authorized the use of armed force as it did with respect to Iraq. If the president’s strategy is, indeed, so wrongheaded as to require congressional intervention, then thwarting it would surely be worth any political price that must be paid. In fact, of course, it is not so obviously wrong; indeed, it may well work.

What is really going on here is a congressional power play. The new Democratic leadership would prefer to act as a kind of national shop foreman, supervising and correcting the president’s execution of his office without political risk. That, however, is not the system the Constitution established.

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