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The Los Angeles Times

Bring On The Iraq Micromanagers

Why Congress Has Every Right to Pull Strings and Show Leadership in Executing The War.

Rosa Brooks

Faced with congressional bills setting timelines for the redeployment of combat troops from Iraq, the president and his dwindling band of supporters have been complaining bitterly about lawmakers' efforts to "micromanage" the war.Funny, you'd think they'd be relieved! It's about time someone in the U.S. government showed an interest in managing - much less micromanaging - this war.

After all, the Bush administration's lack of interest in war-related details is legendary. Before the war began, the administration manifested this by ignoring intelligence that undermined its case for war. In his 2003 State of the Union address, for instance, Bush told the nation that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Those infamous 16 words were justified by the existence of documents purporting to show a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Not, we presume, wishing to micromanage the decision-making process, Bush and his top advisors ignored evidence that the documents were fake - even though, as the Washington Post concluded this week, the documents were "filled with errors easily identifiable through a simple Internet search."

And then there was the prewar "planning," a similar triumph of non-micromanagement on the part of the administration. Donald H. Rumsfeld, another high-concept guy, didn't like being told that he was sending too few troops to do the job in Iraq, so he forced out Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who'd made the mistake of suggesting that a little attention to such details might not be amiss.

Then, when the obsessive-compulsive types involved in the State Department's massive Future of Iraq project tried to interest the Pentagon in their postwar planning recommendations, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon war planners made it clear they didn't want to hear about it. The result? About 2,500 pages of painstakingly detailed recommendations on subjects ranging from rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure to democratic reform went straight into the circular file.

For the next four years, even as every foreseeable disaster occurred, the administration maintained its high-concept approach to the war. The deaths of at least 3,265 U.S. troops and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians were written off as regrettable but insignificant in relation to the administration's grand strategy goal of "a free and democratic Iraq, which will fight terror [and] be a beacon of freedom."

And a somnolent Congress just kept nodding along.

SO WE OUGHT TO give thanks that Congress has finally stopped dozing and decided to do something to bring this disastrous war to a close. In late March, both houses of Congress passed bills to fully fund military operations in Iraq, with timetables for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

The president was quick to denounce the bills as unconstitutional efforts by Congress to "micromanage our military commanders" and "handcuff our generals in the field." But this characterization of the congressional bills suggests that - in keeping with administration tradition - the president hasn't actually read them.

In fact, the bills hardly tie anyone's hands. The House version, for instance, requires the president to ensure that military units be "mission ready" before being deployed, but it allows these requirements to be waived by the president "for national security reasons." In the Senate version, the March 31, 2008, troop withdrawal date is only a "goal." And both bills permit troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely to protect U.S. personnel, run counter-terrorism operations and train Iraqi forces. That's "management," sure, but no scrupulous reader could call it micromanagement.

In any case, the president's claim that Congress is constitutionally barred from "micromanaging" the war is an object lesson in why he could use a little micromanagement himself.

Contrary to the administration's claim, the Constitution (which makes a good read for detail-oriented citizens) in no way prohibits congressional restrictions on the use of the military. On the contrary. Having had unpleasant experiences with monarchical government, the framers were determined to prevent precisely the sort of situation we now have, in which an unaccountable executive endangers the nation through a foolish and self-destructive war.

Thus, while the president's war-related powers are dealt with in a single clause ("the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy"), the Constitution outlines expansive congressional wartime powers, a view that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Congress is expressly empowered to declare war (and, implicitly, to declare an end to a particular war). Congress also has the power to "raise and support Armies" (with the proviso that "no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years," which was intended to ensure precisely the accountability the administration seeks to evade). Congress also is given the power "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." With its Iraq bills, Congress isn't micromanaging; it's just fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities.

It's about time, too.

© Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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