- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

President Bush’s campaign keeps asking pointed questions about Sen. John Kerry’s “vote for war” against Iraq two years ago. The claim Congress’ Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of Oct. 11, 2002, was a “vote for war” reflects the letter of the resolution, but flies in the face of its spirit.

The measure authorized presidential use of force against the “continuing threat posed by Iraq.” On Oct. 8, 2001, on the eve of the vote in Congress, Mr. Bush delivered a major address to the nation on the Iraqi threat. He said: “Approving this resolution does not mean that the military action is imminent or unavoidable. This resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice.”

This spirit of the resolution was reflected in speeches legislators from both parties made prior to the vote. Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, said passing the authorization was important to convince Saddam Hussein that American and international resolve is “real, unshakable and enforceable if there is to be a peaceful resolution.” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said passage of the resolution made diplomatic success at the U.N. “more likely, and, therefore, war less likely.”

The resolution was not a “war vote” because, at the time, the administration claimed publicly Mr. Bush had not made the decision to use force. Rather, Congress voted for diplomacy.

The authorization demonstrated the unified resolve of the U.S. government to ensure — by force, as a last resort — that Iraq disarm. The congressional action was designed to strengthen Secretary of State Colin Powell’s position as he negotiated passage of the unanimous U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which put world pressure on Iraq to accept international inspections. These inspections, if allowed to run their full course, would have demonstrated Iraq was indeed disarmed.

Unfortunately, despite many public statements to the contrary, President Bush was not interested in just ridding Iraq of WMDs. Instead, he focused on changing the Iraqi regime.

Already in April 2002, Mr. Bush remarked to a British reporter: “I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go. That’s about all I’m willing to share with you.” That is why Bush did not let the inspections run their course, and proceeded with determination in early 2003 to unseat the Iraqi leader.

Scholars argue Congress can authorize hostilities either by an authorizing use of force or by a declaration of war. Two examples of the former cited are the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the congressional resolution to authorize the force against Iraq in 1991. In both cases, Congress authorized prompt use of U.S. Armed Forces.

This was not the case in October 2002, when Congress issued an anticipatory authorization to use force, relinquished its constitutional right and responsibility to decide when and if to initiate hostilities against Iraq, and instead passed the buck to Mr. Bush. As a result, the president was left with unprecedented authority not only to wage war — as envisioned by Article 2 of the Constitution — but also to declare hostilities between the United States and Iraq, which, as per Article 1, is Congress’ responsibility.

In hindsight, Congress committed a colossal blunder in October 2002 by giving Mr. Bush such expansive war-making authority. Despite Mr. Bush’s charged rhetoric about regime change throughout 2002, the Congress allowed itself to be misled by the administration’s frequent assurances Mr. Bush had made no decision to use force. In the end, it was right for Congress to demonstrate the nation’s resolve to disarm Iraq and threaten use of force. It was unnecessary and wrong, however, to allow the president to decide when and whether to use force. Unfortunately, Congress voted down the amendment proposed by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to reserve for Congress the final decision using force if U.N. diplomacy failed.

The Bush campaign’s questioning of Mr. Kerry’s alleged “war vote” in October 2002 is disingenuous and misleading. The war in Iraq had just one vote in March 2003 — President Bush’s.


John Kenneth Galbraith Fellow,

Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund;

senior political analyst,

Americans for Informed Democracy.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide