- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A plan by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and Capitol Hill lawmakers, who applauded the idea of playing a larger role in deciding when to go to war.

“I love that, as a member of Congress. It’s a great idea,” said Iraq war policy.

“I think we’ve learned the hard way that it is harder to get out of a war than it is to get into one, and we had better think twice,” Mr. Durbin said, adding wryly, “In fact we ought to put it in the Consti … oh, it is in the Constitution.”

The Constitution grants Congress exclusive power to declare war and appropriate war funds, while the president, as commander in chief, has the sole power to manage battlefield strategy.

But the modern presidency has trumped Congress’ war authority as the evolving definition of war led to a “police action” in Korea, an “undeclared war” in Vietnam and the Iraq war, which critics say became a sustained counterinsurgency mission that went beyond the invasion authorized by the Senate in 2002.

The plan presented Tuesday called for a new law requiring the president to inform Congress of plans for “significant armed conflict” or operations other than quick emergency strikes. A new joint House and Senate committee with access to classified military information would review the president’s justification for war, and Congress would have 30 days to approve or reject the mission.

“What we aim to do with this statute is to create a process that will encourage the two branches to cooperate and consult in a way that is both practical and true to the spirit of the Constitution,” said Mr. Baker, who served under Republican Iraq Study Group.

The proposed legislation was the product of a yearlong study by a panel led by Mr. Baker and Mr. Christopher, who served Democratic President Clinton.

“Given that the old-time declarations of war are either nonexistent or changed, I do think it is something to look at,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Mr. Schumer said his view would not change if the likely Democratic nominee for president, White House.

Mr. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war before his election to the Senate in 2004 and criticized the vote authorizing the invasion, voiced support for the study group’s work.

“Senator Obama commends this bipartisan study for advocating that the president consult Congress more closely on issues of critical national importance, like the use of military force,” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.

A top adviser to the likely Republican presidential nominee, Arizona, approached the proposal as if it were an academic exercise, noting that the debate over the extent of the president’s constitutional powers are “as old as the republic itself.”

He pointed out that Founding Fathers Europe, a declaration made without Congress’ approval and which broke a U.S. treaty with France.

“The Baker/Christopher war powers proposal is an interesting approach to this enduring issue,” said McCain campaign senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann. “As President, Senator McCain would make consultations with Congress a priority, especially in the issues of war and peace.”

After taking control of Congress in January 2007, Democrats tried to cap force levels and set a timetable for withdrawals. While they lacked a veto-proof majority to put the restrictions into law, the White House argued that such legislation would have violated the Constitution by infringing upon the president’s right as commander in chief to protect the nation. Democrats disagreed, contending there was ample precedence.

The one surefire way for Congress to have ended the war was to cut off money for combat operations - a step most Democrats weren’t willing to make because they feared that doing so would have hurt troops in harms’ way, or at least be perceived by voters that way.

The plan identified by Mr. Baker and Mr. Christopher would not necessarily resolve such issues in the future.

The panel studied the issue for more than a year and consulted more than three dozen experts. Other members of the panel include former Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state.

The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia sponsored the study.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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