What About the War Powers Act?
Blast from the past:
On Sept. 24, 1990, then-Senator William S. Cohen (R-Maine, later to become Clinton's secretary of defense) wrote in the Washington Post [see page 14 of pdf] that Congress would be well advised to follow the rules of the 1973 War Powers Act in authorizing the first President Bush to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
The Modern Tribune argues that although the 2002 authorization of force contained provisions making any subsequent action subject to the War Powers Act, the conditions of the act were never met, rendering the invasion illegal. I don't know enough about the enforcability of such an act to argue this point one way or the other, but that said, I definitely don't see the WPA the same way the author of the Modern Tribune piece does.
The MT author interprets the act as requiring evidence of a "clear" and "imminent" threat in order for military action to be lawful; I wouldn't necessarily object if it did say that, but I think it's a stretch to read it that way. One key section states: "The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." Near as I can tell, item (2) opens the door for Congress to authorize an attack on a rogue banana peel and that would be perfectly legal -- if rather silly. (Debaters, here's the full text of the act. What do you think?)
What I do know is that for the act to have any teeth whatsoever, Congress would at least have to attempt to enforce it, and as Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter explained in an op-ed last month, presidents and members of Congress pretty much ignore the legislation. (Gelb and Slaughter advocate the return of the constitutional declaration of war.)
One of the more interesting bits of H.J. Res. 110 Authorizing Use of U.S. Armed Forces Against Iraq is section 2(b)(2)(B). (A great wonder of government is that a resolution barely longer than a standard op-ed would actually have a subsection b, paragraph 2, subparagraph B.) Anyway, 2b2B requires that before exercising the authority given by the resolution, the President must "transmit to Congress ... a comprehensive plan for long-term cultural, economic, and political stabalization in a free Iraq."
This leaves me wondering -- did he meet that requirement? If so, what happened to said comprehensive plan? Or have we only just now gotten it, in the form of the modestly-titled National Strategy For -- begin 72-point font -- VICTORY IN IRAQ.
For more on the nsfVII, check out Jim Hoagland's column. The nsfVII kind of reminds me of when one Maryland county executive, in the face of growing doubt about his crime-fighting abilties, hastily released a document that essentially restated everything the county was already doing to reduce crime. The problem was, however, that it wasn't working. This is the essential question, raised in a Post editorial today: A consensus may be emerging on a plan for Iraq, but does the plan offer a realistic solution?
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