D. Spencer Hines
2007-01-25 16:31:26 UTC
Lux et Veritas et Libertas
Exitus Acta Probat
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Congress has no Constitutional power to micromanage a war.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The Wall Street Journal
To understand why the Founders put war powers in the hands of the
Presidency, look no further than the current spectacle in Congress on Iraq.
What we are witnessing is a Federalist Papers illustration of criticism and
micromanagement without responsibility.
Consider the resolution pushed through the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee yesterday by Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel, two men who would love to
be President if only they could persuade enough voters to elect them. Both
men voted for the Iraq War. But with that war proving to be more difficult
than they thought, they now want to put themselves on record as opposing any
further attempts to win it.
Their resolution--which passed 12-9--calls for Iraqis to "reach a political
settlement" leading to "reconciliation," as if anyone disagrees with that
necessity. But then it declares that the way to accomplish this is to wash
American hands of the Iraq effort, proposing that U.S. forces retreat to
protect the borders and hunt terrorists.
The logic here seems to be that if the Americans leave, Iraqis will
miraculously conclude that they must settle their differences. A kind of
reverse field of dreams: If we don't come, they will build it.
The irony is that this is not all that far from the "light footprint"
strategy that the Bush Administration was following last year and which
these same Senators called a failure. It is precisely the inability to
provide security in Baghdad that has led to greater sectarian violence,
especially among Shiites victimized by Sunni car bombs. The purpose of the
new Bush counterinsurgency strategy is to provide more security to the
population in the hopes of making a political settlement easier.
But then such analysis probably takes this resolution more seriously than
most of the Senators do. If they were serious and had the courage of their
convictions, they'd attempt to cut off funds for the Iraq effort.
BINGO! -- DSH
But that would mean they would have to take responsibility for what happens
next. By passing "non-binding resolutions," they can assail Mr. Bush and
put all of the burden of success or failure on his shoulders.
Yes, that's their strategy. -- DSH
This is not to say that the resolution won't have harmful consequences, at
home and abroad. At home, it further undermines public support for the Iraq
effort. Virginia Republican John Warner even cites a lack of public support
to justify his separate non-binding resolution of criticism for Mr. Bush's
troop "surge." But public pessimism is in part a response to the rhetoric of
failure from political leaders like Mr. Warner. The same Senators then wrap
their own retreat in the defeatism they helped to promote.
In Iraq, all of this undermines the morale of the military and makes their
task that much harder on the ground. When John McCain asked Lieutenant
General David Petraeus that precise question during his confirmation hearing
Tuesday, the next commander of Coalition operations in Iraq said, "It would
not be a beneficial effect, sir."
And when Joe Lieberman asked if such a resolution would give the enemy cause
to believe that Americans were divided, he added, "That's correct, sir."
Several Senators protested and demanded that the general stay out of
domestic politics, but his only offense was telling the truth. Of course the
enemy would take comfort from any Senate declaration that Mr. Bush lacks
All of this also applies to the many Congressional efforts to set
"benchmarks" or otherwise micromanage the battlefield. Hillary Rodham
Clinton says she is "cursed with the responsibility gene" that makes her
unwilling to cut off funds, but instead she proposes to set a cap on U.S.
troops in the theater. So while General Petraeus says he needs more troops
to fulfill his mission, General Clinton says he doesn't. Which battlefield
commander do you trust?
Astute. -- DSH
House Republicans are little better. They blame Mr. Bush and Iraq for their
loss of Congress, rather than their own ethics, earmarks and other failures.
So looking ahead to 2008 they now want to distance themselves from the war
they voted for, albeit also without actually having to vote against it. Thus
their political brainstorm is to demand monthly "benchmarks for success"
that the Bush Administration and Iraqis will have to meet.
So every 30 days, General Petraeus and his men will have to take their
attention away from the Baghdad campaign and instead report to Congress on
how well Iraqis and Americans are communicating with one another, among
other crucial matters. Minority Leader John Boehner is even asking Speaker
Nancy Pelosi to create another special Congressional committee to look over
the general's shoulder. It's a shame Ulysses S. Grant isn't around to tell
them where to put their special committee.
In addition to being feckless, all of this is unconstitutional. As
Commander-in-Chief, the President has the sole Constitutional authority to
manage the war effort. Congress has two explicit war powers: It has the
power to declare war, which in the case of Iraq it essentially did with its
resolution of 2003. It also has the power to appropriate funds.
There is a long and unsettled debate over whether Congress can decide to
defund specific military operations once it has created a standing Army. We
lean toward those who believe it cannot, but the Founders surely didn't
imagine that Congress could start dictating when and where the 101st
Airborne could be deployed once a war is under way.
Mr. Bush was conciliatory and respectful in his State of the Union Address
Tuesday night, asking Congress to give his new Iraq strategy a chance. In a
better world, the Members would do so. But if they insist on seeking
political cover by trying to operate as a committee of 535
Commanders-in-Chief, Mr. Bush will have to start reminding Congress who
really has the job.