Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iraq War - Congressional Enablers

I dug up Congressman Paul's speech to the House in Sep. 2002: Questions That Won't Be Asked About Iraq. If his fellow Congressmen and Senators had taken the time to answer Paul's questions before rushing blindly to approve the force authorization lest they appear weak on national defense, we wouldn't be in the quagmire we find ourselves in today, nearly six years later.

Though the Democratic party has been keen to paint the war as a Bush/Republican error, the American people have not been fooled, and they have dispensed punishment on one of the Democratic enablers of the war, Senator Clinton. As with many in the Senate and the House, her vote was not the result of diligent investigation into the evidence underlying the pro-war arguments (she didn't read the NIE report; she defends herself by saying that most haven't read the report, but rely on the summary or speak with others for this info - but most others weren't contemplating running for President as she was!). No, her vote was the result of a political calculation - anticipating a Presidential run in 2008, she wanted to appear strong on defense. Very few of our elected representatives had the courage to stand up to the White House, the war hungry mainstream media, and not least, the blind bloodlust that swept this country after 9/11.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Wars should not engaged in reflexively. The best defense we have against a rash decision to go to war, even when we are all enraged by an attack on our soil, is already built into the Constitution, i.e., to require a formal declaration of war by Congress. Such an declaration would require war proponents to lay out their case clearly, and allow time for investigation of the evidence supporting the pro-war case. Importantly, it would also force our Congressional representatives to own their decisions, which will increase the likelihood that they will ask the tough questions before voting for war. As an aside, this does not in any way prevent the President from immediately responding to attacks on our soil.

An authorization of the use of force, as we had in Iraq, is much easier for a Congressperson or Senator to approve, because it allows him/her to say "Well, I merely authorized the use of force, but it was up to the President to use that force authorization wisely". It allowed our reps to stand up and give blustery speeches, but at the same time, should things go horribly awry, to argue that their authorization was misused by the executive branch - and hasn't Senator Clinton done exactly that? Didn't Senator Kerry do exactly that?

Though these "hedged" positions have caught out both these Senators in their Presidential campaigns, many others have not been taken to task for the abdication of their responsibilities, and more importantly, we have not abandoned this extra-Constitutional notion of force authorization. Though it seems ridiculous that we need a law that requires us to force the Congress to abide by the Constitution, it seems that is exactly what we need to make sure we don't bypass the Constitutional safeguard against blind rushes to war. How many times do we need to make the same mistake before we do something about it? The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution allowed President Johnson to escalate the conflict in Vietnam into a full-fledged war. It would seem that until we force our reps in Congress to own their decisions via formal declarations of war, we are at the mercy of war-mongers, the media, the ambitions of politicians, and not least, our own bloodlust.

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