Published on Thursday, October 3, 2002 in the Los Angeles Times
Don't Give Bush War Powers
by Paul Findley
My former colleagues in Congress are grappling with President Bush's request for congressional authority to use "all means necessary," including force, against Iraq and "to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism."
It is unlikely that Congress will ever face a request of higher risk to the well-being of the American people, as well as to all of humankind.
In brief, the president asks Congress to support his decision to establish war-making as a presidential policy tool rather than an instrument of last resort.
Until now, declaring war has been accepted as the exclusive domain of Congress, the people's branch of government.
The president's new security document shifts basic policy from deterrence to dominance of adversaries and arrogates enormous new authority to the president.
To fulfill this self-appointed duty to police the world, our government declares that it must maintain absolute military supremacy worldwide and take all necessary action to assure that adversarial nations do not increase their military power.
In a notable bit of arrogance, the plan even assumes U.S. responsibility to advise other nations, starting with China, on proper budget outlays for military purposes.
The plan relegates the United Nations and all other international institutions to supporting roles: If they take the lead that the United States directs, fine. If not, they become irrelevant.
Is the attempt at worldwide rule prudent for any nation, even one as large, militarily strong and democratically based as the United States?
Should the president abandon this country's long-standing, principled opposition to preemptive acts of war?
If we do strike, in violation of international law, other states will reasonably conclude that such strikes are acceptable military conduct.
In that case, the world may sink to the law of the jungle.
Even if Congress concludes that preemptive acts of war can be justified, other questions remain.
Should advance congressional approval be required in each case? If so, can Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq be considered a sufficient threat to U.S. security to qualify for preemptive assault?
Any resolution must be drafted so carefully that it cannot be construed as a declaration of war, which would automatically convey dictatorial powers to the president.
As a member of Congress in 1848, Abraham Lincoln cited war-making as the "most oppressive of all kingly oppressions," and he also declared that the Constitution was constructed in such a way "that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us."
Congress must deny the president's request for fast approval of a preemptive strike against Iraq.
The issues involved are too monumental for a quick decision.
But as an interim response, Congress could enact a concurrent resolution listing the circumstances in which the president may constitutionally order acts of war: to comply with a treaty obligation or to repel a military attack against the territory of the United States, its possessions, military services engaged in peaceful maneuvers or shipping; to participate in humanitarian rescue operations; or in response to a declaration of war or other authority approved by a majority of the members of each house of Congress.
Paul Findley, a Republican, represented Illinois in the House of Representatives from 1961 to 1983. He was a major author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times