- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

Something is rotten in Congress’ contemplation of a palsied nonbinding resolution opposing a troop surge in Iraq.

President Bush plans to dispatch more than 20,000 additional soldiers there to risk that last full measure of devotion in a hopeless campaign. No thinking person is betting a penny on the surge’s success.

Iraq is convulsed by deep and longstanding sectarian and ethnic divisions that military force in whatever numbers cannot overcome. The new National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s future titled “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead (January 2007) confirms that gloom: “Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. … Decades of subordination to Sunni political, social and economic domination have made the Shia deeply insecure about their hold on power. This insecurity leads the Shia to mistrust U.S. efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues, including adjusting the structure of Iraq’s federal system, reining in Shia militias, and easing de-Ba’athification … [T]he term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.”

Members of Congress overwhelmingly understand that President Bush’s troop surge will fail and occasion U.S. casualties as senseless as the Charge of the Light Brigade immortalized by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The constitutional power of the purse is available to prevent Mr. Bush’s folly; and, precedent is not lacking. Congress employed the power to prevent President Richard M. Nixon from expanding the Vietnam War into Cambodia, and, ultimately denied funding for any combat in South Asia. Moreover, President Bush is a soft target for the Democrat controlled 110th Congress. He has less than two years to serve. His popularity is low and plunging. A majority of Americans disapprove of his handing of Iraq. And he was smartly repudiated at the polls last November.

Yet Congress has cravenly shied from blocking the president’s troop surge either by denying funds for it or by conditioning the funds on presidential certifications that the Iraqi government had satisfied enumerated benchmarks of political legitimacy and reconciliation, including free and fair provincial elections, an equitable sharing of oil and gas resources and dismantling of private militias. Instead, Congress is poised to pass a spineless nonbinding resolution verbally opposing Mr. Bush which will do nothing to prevent the purposeless deaths of U.S. soldiers.

The explanation for such squalidness is clear. A member risks nothing politically by permitting the president’s surge caper to proceed to its doom while carping from the sidelines. Mr. Bush will be blamed for the failure, not Congress. And members will point to their nonbinding opposition as proof of their prescience.

On the other hand, they discern little if any political gain from prohibiting the troop surge. Iraq would remain in upheaval. The civil war would intensify. U.S. troops already deployed there would continue to suffer casualties. And President Bush would blame Congress for his failure to make Iraq a flagship Middle East democracy.

If members were beset by moral consciences, they would vote to thwart the troop surge to avoid complicity in fruitless American casualties.

As Edmund Burke sermonized, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing. But the ethos of Congress has degenerated since the Founding Fathers. Expediency is equated with statesmanship. Party loyalty trumps constitutional fidelity. Members crave re-election over constitutional or moral considerations. They will not awaken in the night like Lady Macbeth anguishing over their decision to acquiesce in what they know will eventuate in squandering more American lives.

President Bush has been correctly assailed for a reckless and ill-conceived Iraq war. But Congress has earned equal censure. The Constitution empowers it to check the president in national security matters by controlling spending, troop levels or passing “necessary and proper” laws to restrain the exercise of executive power.

The Founding Fathers expected the president to contrive foreign conflicts to aggrandize the authorities and to suppress domestic opposition. They did not expect Congress to flinch from asserting its own national security prerogatives. If the American people do not complain, Congress will remain invertebrate.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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