RESOLUTIONS FOR THE IRRESOLUTE
Impeach George W. Bush!
Yeah, right. And while youre at it, come up with a cure for the common cold.
Its true, Bush should be impeached for putting American soldiers in harms way without a declaration of war by Congress. Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution makes it clear that only Congress can declare war. The only time a president can unilaterally pursue military action is when an instant response is required to an actual attack on the nation or when such an attack is unquestionably imminent and theres no time for congressional action. Considering how the Iraq situation has dragged on over the months, its obvious that the only attack thats ever been imminent is our own.
So Bush should be impeached.
But he wont be. Why not? First, because Congress has happily washed its hands of the matter. Second, because the courts shudder and squeeze their eyes shut like spinsters whenever someone asks them to look at the constitutional mess. And, third, because the majority of the American people, having forgotten whatever they learned in 8th grade civics, just dont seem to give a damn.
As a result, when it comes to making war, the United States no longer has a president, it has a Caesar. In fact, since 1945, it has had a series of Caesars.
In the entire history of the U.S., Congress has declared war just five times: for the War of 1812, the Mexican-U.S. War (1846-1848), The Spanish-American War (1898), World War I and World War II.
Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kuwait, Kosovo--in these and dozens of other places since World War II, American soldiers have killed and been killed. And in every case, Congress and the courts have weaseled out of their responsibility for seeing that the president abided by our system of checks and balances.
The current situation is playing out in typical fashion: Instead of sucking it up, debating the issue and voting yes or no for a war against Iraq, the House and Senate back in October passed a resolution giving the president the power to use the armed forces as he determines to be necessary in Iraq. In other words, they have simply handed over their Constitutional responsibilities. Senators and representatives did this for one of two reasons: 1) they trust the president to behave wisely in Iraq or 2) theyre terrified of being labeled soft on national security. By passing such a resolution, they absolve themselves of any blame if things go badly in an Iraq war but get credit for supporting military action if things go well. Democratic congressmen are particularly craven in all this, since, as the loyal opposition, they should be most responsible for reining in a Republican president. But the Democrats would rather be soft on the Constitution than on national security. For them, the Iraq resolution was handy cop-out.
A similar resolution, youll recall, was passed before the first Gulf War in 1990, and of course the mother of all such resolutions was the Tonkin Resolution passed in 1964 that supposedly gave Presidents Johnson and Nixon the power to prosecute the Vietnam War.
In almost every one of these nonwar wars, someone has gone to the courts to point out the constitutional, um, irregularities involved, and in every case the courts have declined to touch the issue. Back in 1990, before the first Bushs Gulf War, a federal court declared, with the pure poetry of pusillanimity, that the suit contesting the presidents right to go to war on his own lacked ripeness because it wasnt clear that war was in fact imminent. Last month, six U.S. Congressmen and the families of several soldiers ordered to the Near East to fight Iraq filed suit in Boston to have a federal court declare George W. Bushs coming Iraq war unconstitutional absent a Congressional declaration of war. (If you missed the news about this case, blame the mainstream U.S. media, which pretty much ignored it. After all, its just the Constitution.) This time the federal judge decided that the lawsuit dealt with political questions in the legal sense that are beyond the jurisdiction of the court. This decision was less poetic than the one back in 1990, but just as pusillanimous. The judge was essentially saying that it is not up to the federal courts to decide a question of constitutionality. Which of course raises the question: If not the courts, then who? Donald Rumsfeld? John Ashcroft? The Emperor himself?
So here we are. War, as I write this, is probable within days, if not hours. And theres nothing our elected representatives or our courts will do even to question it.
But wait, there is hope on the horizon. The resolution passed back in October requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of any military action against Iraq and to submit to Congress a report on the military campaign every 60 days. The 1973 War Powers Act further requires the president to explain the circumstances necessitating the introduction of the U.S. Armed Forces into any field of battle, and after 60 days of fighting, the President must either end the military action or get Congressional approval to extend it.
I look forward to hearing the presidents explanations for war in Iraq and, if Congress has the guts to invoke the 60-day rule, to see how he justifies keeping troops there longer than two months. If President Bush and his minions maintain the same level of honesty they have shown in the run-up to the war, maybe something positive will happen yet. After all, as I understand it, perjury before Congress is still an impeachable offense.