WASHINGTON The sweeping authority sought by President Bush to confront Iraq would allow him to ignore the United Nations and fight Saddam Hussein at the time, place and manner of his choosing. Some legal experts said the proposed resolution would even permit the president to use military force beyond Iraq's borders.
"It's wide open," said Scott L. Silliman, director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. "This resolutions says, 'Mr. President, you can use force anywhere to bring peace and stability anywhere'."
unilateral first strike would set a terrible international precedent.
One Democratic lawmaker said Bush was writing himself a blank check for war.
The 20-paragraph proposed resolution would authorize Bush to "use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce" United Nation's Security Council Resolutions, "defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."
Bush's advisers, citing the U.N. resolutions and a 1998 law, said his proposal allows for the violent ouster of Saddam. While he believes the commander in chief does not need Congress' authority to wage war, Bush wants the political and moral authority that comes with congressional action, advisers said.
A show of unity with Congress also may help Bush's bid for a U.N. resolution to disarm Saddam, advisers said.
"If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force," Bush told reporters after a meeting with his war council in the Oval Office.
The proposal appears to be broader than an Iraq resolution passed by Congress in 1998, which did not specifically approve force, and may be more sweeping than the measure giving Bush's father authority to fight the Persian Gulf War, legal experts said.
Congressional leaders predicted they would quickly give Bush broad powers, though some Democrats objected to his proposal.
"I'm not giving the president a blank check, period," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said Bush's proposal was more open-ended than the congressional resolution that authorized war in Vietnam.
"The Gulf of Tonkin resolution ... did at least limit the president to repelling an armed attack and preventing future aggression, and to aiding certain treaty members who requested defense," he said.
Though White House officials insisted the resolution was limited to Iraq, legal experts said talk about restoring peace and stability in the region is unusually broad and could eventually be applied to other terrorist havens.
"What region? It doesn't say just Iraq. It says the region," Silliman said. "Would it allow him to use force in Yemen? How about the Sudan? One could argue that it could."
Robert Turner, associate director of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law, said a sweeping resolution showcases American unity, which can avert war as he said happened during the Cuban missile crisis and amid confrontations in the Middle East and China during the 1950s.
"When Congress stood behind the president and threatened the use of force, each time the bad guys backed down," Turner said.
The resolution embraces Bush's new "first strike" policy, allowing the United States to attack a country over a perceived threat instead of waiting for America to be struck first.
"A pre-emptive, unilateral first strike would set a terrible international precedent," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
White House officials said this would not be the first time the United States has stood ready to strike first. Two examples they offered: The 1962 blockade of Cuba to keep Russian missiles out of the Western Hemisphere and the nation's refusal during the Cold War to rule out a first strike nuclear attack to prevent a larger attack.
Bush's resolution also would allow him to act on his own, even if the United Nations refuses to bless his Iraqi policy.
"Going alone has some very significant risks," warned Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.
He wants Bush's resolution to say the president needs a U.N. resolution backing the use of force.
© 2002 The Associated Press