- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

One of the media's most heavily covered issues recently, the role of Congress in authorizing the president to go to war with Iraq, is fading. The president and his National Security Council team made their case skillfully to both the Congress and the public.
The administration deserves a midterm grade of "A" for balancing the roles of force and diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy with domestic politics as they proceed with next steps in The U.N. Security Council.
Lest anyone now think the role of Congress in authorizing the use of military force has now been settled, let's review a little recent history of U.S. national security policy. Yes, we all know about Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, "The Congress shall have the power to declare war. " But that provision has mattered little to presidents determined to use military force abroad when deemed to be in the national security interests of the United States.
My Georgetown School of Foreign Service graduate students and I have focused on this subject for the past two weeks. After some serious debates in class and by e-mail, here is our consensus. (If it isn't, you'll probably hear from them in these pages).
The last time Congress really challenged a president on war powers was in the War Powers Act of July 1973, passed over the veto of President Nixon. At the time, our nation was in domestic turmoil brought on by a youth revolution, popular disaffection with the Vietnam War, and the aftermath of the 1972 Watergate scandal. The act set a 60-day limit on the president's power to wage undeclared war without the approval of Congress.
Ignored or declared unconstitutional by every president since Nixon, the role of Congress in decisions about war has declined.
Congress essentially played no role in President Reagan's decisions to invade Grenada and place Marines in Lebanon in 1983, put mines in Nicaraguan harbors in 1984, bomb Libya in 1986 or escort reflagged Kuwaiti ships in the Persian Gulf and engage in several battles with the Iranian navy from mid-1987 through mid-1988. Nor did Congress play a meaningful role in the first President Bush's decision to invade Panama in 1989 or to liberate Kuwait in 1991. President Clinton launched major military air and missile strikes against Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Serbia in 1998-99 (remember Monica and "wag the dog"). Congressional role? Inconsequential.
The Persian Gulf war (1990-91) under the leadership of the first President Bush best underscores my point. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Mr. Bush quickly drew "a line in the sand." Our president decided to send American troops to Saudi Arabia fast to prevent Iraq from conquering that oil kingdom.
Nearly six months later, on Jan. 8, 1991, after fierce debates in Congress, President Bush finally requested legislative approval to use military force. However, by that time the United Nations had already authorized military action and the United States had more than 500,000 troops in the Arabian desert, about the same number as we deployed to Vietnam. President Bush's unilateral actions had brought our nation to a point where turning back was not a realistic option; that is, a Congress, even one controlled by an opposition party, could not reject the president's request without severely damaging U.S. credibility and image. The authorizing resolution passed narrowly by five votes in the Senate. The Jan. 21, 1991, issue of Time magazine quotes President Bush as saying, "I don't think I need it.
Query: Where do you think the Bush administration is right now with our Congress and the rest of us "the public?" How about deja vu?
Over the past few weeks, charges have been being exchanged among the White House, some key members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and some very important members of previous administrations about "playing domestic politics" with American national security policy before the Nov. 5 elections while we are in this "war against terrorism." But some very important substantive issues have been vetted in the Congress and the media about whether, how and when Saddam Hussein should be compelled to give up his weapons of mass destruction ( WMD) and the future of Iraq after military conflict). Good; as Alexander once said, "Debate is the essence of democracy."
But, does anyone really believe that status quo of the relationship of the Congress to the presidency in relation to war powers over the past 30 years has changed? While we ponder this supposedly major constitutional issue, the very professional Bush administration "moveth on," playing a poker hand that opponents, both foreign and domestic, have not yet understood. They will when someone else writes to extend our history on war powers which recounts that this White House was so confident about public support in the wake of September 11 that it was a "no brainer" to let Congress debate war against Iraq when the outcome would solidify support for the president at home and certainly influence votes on The U.N. Security Council.
With a strong majority congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force, the United States now appears "united" and resolute. This may or may not lead the U.N. Security Council to pass the strong resolution the president wants, tying a tough inspections regime to the use of all necessary means to compel Saddam to give up all weapons of mass destruction and their production facilities. But, either way, we get credit for working through the U.N., adding to the slowly growing number of nations willing to join us, publicly or privately in a coalition against Iraq.
Of course, it is fortuitous for the president and his party that the debate on the congressional Iraq resolution comes before the Nov. 5 elections, crowding out other issues the Democrats would prefer to see in the national media. Such is life and politics.
Meanwhile, war planning continues and U.S. forces in the Middle East are being beefed up. Is there any doubt that the president/commander in chief is in control of war powers as usual?

Bill Taylor, a retired Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is a distinguished alumnus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.


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