- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

If Congress declares war, it does not need to identify a single country as the enemy.

Political leaders — from President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to Sen. Arlen Specter and others — yesterday called the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "acts of war." Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said on the Senate floor that the United States can declare war against a group — not just against nations — if desired.

"You don't necessarily have to exactly specify who we're at war with. It could be international terrorists," said Marshall Wittmann, senior fellow with the Hudson Institute.

While chief suspect Osama bin Laden, a member of the terrorist group al Qaeda, has been indicted by U.S. courts since 1988 for attacks against Americans, bin Laden has virtually escaped the wrath of the United States by hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he oversees terrorist training camps.

That appears about to end — with or without a formal declaration of war.

"We will hold accountable those countries that provide support, that give host nations — if you can call it that — support and facilities to these kinds of terrorist groups," Mr. Powell said yesterday, reiterating the president's stance.

"We will be directing our efforts not only against terrorists, but against those who do harbor and do provide haven and do provide support for terrorism."

While Congress is authorized in the Constitution "to declare war" and "to raise and support armies," Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said simply: "A declaration of war is whatever the president says it is."

Political scholars also said the formal act of declaring war isn't required for Mr. Bush to strike militarily against any country or group. The War Powers Act of 1973 allows the president to attack in the event a "national emergency [is] created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

The act was created because Congress was unhappy that President Nixon was acting unilaterally in the Vietnam War.

Other presidents have come under fire for employing the military without consulting Congress, as the War Powers Act attempted to make a requirement. The president can use military forces for 60 days without a formal declaration of war by Congress.

Most presidents, scholars said, have gotten away with breaching the act. Former President Bill Clinton violated the act in 1998 with impunity, ordering air strikes against Yugoslavia in March of that year.

The House of Representatives refused to give approval for the air war in a tie vote of 213-213 on April 28.

Sixty days later, the war was not concluded, but Mr. Clinton's authority went unchecked — although a group of congressmen sued to end the air strikes They lost the suit.

Mr. Bush's father, as president, used both avenues. After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a U.S. ally, he would have been within his power to declare war. Instead, he asked Congress for an advance vote of confidence.

"I can think of no better way than for Congress to express its support for the president at this critical time. This truly is the last best chance for peace," the president said then. Congress authorized military force Jan. 12, 1991; aerial bombings of Iraq began four days later.

Mr. Powell yesterday, for the first time, suggested that the United States might invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreement, which states that any attack against a member country is considered an attack against the alliance.

The secretary of state said George Robertson, NATO secretary-general, was working on a resolution opening access to Article 5.

"If that resolution goes forward, that doesn't invoke Article 5 yet, but it puts in a position to be invoked when the United States makes a judgment about the nature of the attack and where that attack came from," Mr. Powell said.


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