Jewish World Review May 1, 2002 /19 Iyar, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Consumer Reports

No blank check to invade Iraq | The White House wasted no time the other day shooting down a front-page story in The New York Times saying the Bush administration is focusing on "a major air and ground invasion" of Iraq, probably "early next year," using from 70,000 to 250,000 American troops to drive Saddam Hussein from power.

But the very fact that the cautious Good Gray Lady played the story on page one caused considerable consternation among congressional figures who fear President Bush may undertake, without further congressional authority, the task he has often indicated he intends to do - removing the Iraqi threat of using weapons of mass destruction.

Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, who recently held hearings on war powers before his Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, responded with a reminder. "If the president does plan to take such action, it is time for the administration to initiate meaningful consultations with Congress over the authority that will be needed to launch such an expansive military campaign, if it should be undertaken at all."

Feingold went on: "While the consultative process and debate may demonstrate that it may be necessary to take military action to limit Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, it is also clear that the United States must act from a strong unified position. The Constitution and the American people demand as much."

The Wisconsin Democrat noted that Congress had authorized Bush "to use appropriate force to respond to the attacks of Sept. 11," but emphasized that "absent a clear finding that Iraq participated in, aided or otherwise provided support for" the attackers, "the president is constitutionally required to seek additional authority to embark on a new major military undertaking in Iraq."

As of now, there is no indication that the administration has any interest in such discussions with Congress. The White House turns away such matters with evasive and ambiguous comments, like press secretary Ari Fleischer's recent observation that while the Pentagon has "multiple contingency plans" for dealing with Iraq, Bush "has no plan on his desk" to implement military action.

Feingold's distinction that Congress' "use of force" joint resolution in the wake of Sept. 11 was a very limited one, approving only actions clearly responsive to those attacks, is critical. Congressional sources say the administration, in calling for such authorization, at first sought an open-ended resolution in the nature of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that then-President Lyndon Johnson took as a blank check for whatever military action he chose to initiate in Vietnam.

It was to undo this legislative mistake that Congress in 1973 enacted the War Powers Act, which requires regular consultation with Capitol Hill in contemplating military action, written notification within 48 hours of such action and its "estimated scope or duration," and congressional consent through either a declaration of war or "specific statutory authorization." If such approval is not granted in 60 days, the president is supposed to withdraw U.S. forces within 30 days.

The details of the War Powers Act, however, have usually been honored in the breach. But in this latest case, Congress wrote the empowering resolution specifically confining military action against "nations, organizations or persons (the President) determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorists ... or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism" by them.

Such language, as Feingold noted in response to the Times' story on a prospective invasion of Iraq, makes it imperative that unless the administration can establish Iraq complicity in the events of Sept. 11, the administration will be obliged to go back to Congress for new authorization of any invasion or other assault on that country.

An administration spokesman at Feingold's earlier hearings, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, insisted, however, that the president is not bound by the War Powers Act requiring specific congressional approval because of his constitutional powers as commander-in-chief.

This issue, which goes to the heart of constitutional government, warrants further discussion here, and will get it.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

04/24/02: Bush, congress and war on Iraq
04/19/02: What makes Reno run?
04/17/02: Dems' open season on Bush
04/15/02: Election reform at hand
04/12/02: Bush's vacillations
04/10/02: Gubernatorial olympics in Massachusetts
04/08/02: N.H.: Another political third rail
04/01/02: Energy: corporate or political scandal?
03/27/02: Targeting the Federal Election Commission
03/25/02: Campaign finance reform irony
03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
03/15/02: Gore re-enters the arena
03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
02/19/02: Just a beginning on campaign finance reform'
02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
02/06/02: The Bush budget: Reality replaces poetry
02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
02/01/02: Bush keeps Dems on ropes
01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
01/21/02: In search of Tom Ridge
01/18/02: Kennedy takes on the tax fight
01/16/02: On the departure of high government officials
01/11/02: The lobbyist as party chairman
01/07/02: Torricelli's clean bill of health
12/12/01: The elevated vice presidency
12/07/01: September 11th and December 7th
12/05/01: Another children's crusade
12/03/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/30/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/28/01: More Justice Department folly
11/26/01: Ashcroft still under fire
11/21/01: Normalcy vs. security at the White House
11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
11/07/01: The blame game on airport security
11/05/01: Bellwether gubernatorial elections?
11/02/01: Feingold's complaint
10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
10/29/01: Show business on economic stimulus
10/26/01: No political business as usual
10/24/01: Senatorial bravado
10/22/01: Split decision on gun rights
10/16/01: New York mayor's race: What kind of experience?
10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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