Gov. Mario Cuomo / LA Times & Hon. Barbara Lee – 2007-09-04 22:52:10
What the Constitution Says About Iraq
Mario M. Cuomo / The Los Angeles Times
(September 3, 2007) — Congress and the courts must recommit to the legislative branch’s sole authority to declare war.
Most Americans want the war in Iraq ended, but it continues and Americans are killed, mutilated or wounded every day, as the Democratic majorities in Congress struggle to produce legislation that will take our forces out of harm’s way.
Meanwhile, President Bush continues to insist that as commander in chief, he has the constitutional power to go to war and decide when to end it, unilaterally. At the same time, another possible disaster emerges from the shadows: Bush appears to be considering a military assault on Iran, again apparently without Congress declaring war first.
How did we get to this point and what, if anything, can we do now?
The war happened because when Bush first indicated his intention to go to war against Iraq, Congress refused to insist on enforcement of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. For more than 200 years, this article has spelled out that Congress — not the president — shall have “the power to declare war.” Because the Constitution cannot be amended by persistent evasion, this constitutional mandate was not erased by the actions of timid Congresses since World War II that allowed eager presidents to start wars in Vietnam and elsewhere without a “declaration” by Congress.
Nor were the feeble, post-factum congressional resolutions of support of the Iraq invasion — in 2001 and 2002 — adequate substitutes for the formal declaration of war demanded by the founding fathers.
What can be done now?
First, Democrats should make clear that it is the president who is keeping the war in Iraq from ending. Even if Congress were able to pass a veto-proof bill with respect to withdrawal, the president would resist enforcement of the bill, insisting that as commander in chief, he is immune from Congress’ decision. That would raise a constitutional issue for the courts.
But judging by the courts’ history concerning constitutional war powers, including decisions involving the Iraq war in the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts, the judiciary would, in all probability, choose not to intervene, claiming that the disagreement between the president and Congress is a political question.
However, the political-question thesis is nowhere referred to in the Constitution, and it denies the people the protection of the Constitution in dealing with perhaps the most serious question the nation has to face: “Should we go to war?” That position should be challenged as an abdication of constitutional duty by the courts, but the sad truth is that the current conservative-dominated Supreme Court would probably support our current conservative president. As a practical matter, that means only the president can end this waror change our strategy in Iraq.
Even if it is too late for Congress to remedy its failure to comply with the Constitution with respect to Iraq, at the very least our candidates for president and our congressional leaders should assure us that they will not allow this lapse to result in further unilateral acts of war — against Iran, Pakistan or any other nation — by this president or any other. Our leaders must make it clear that in the future, Congress will insist on compliance with Article I, Section 8 for any military action that is not fairly deemed an unexpected emergency.
It is frightening that our government has permitted this fundamental and costly constitutional transgression to persist for more than four years.
We must do everything we can to end the war in Iraq and avoid a new tragedy abroad by recommitting to strict adherence to the rule of law and to the Constitution by the president, Congress and the courts — especially with respect to war powers.
Mario M. Cuomo, the governor of New York from 1983 to 1995, now practices law in New York.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Time for Congress to Take a Stand
Hon. Barbara Lee / US House of Representatives
(September 4, 2007) — If you believe the Beltway hype, members of Congress will return today to a fiery debate about whether or not the president’s so-called “surge” has produced military progress in Iraq. Beltway pundits are breathlessly predicting Democrats will be thrown into disarray by claims that the increased troop levels in Iraq may have produced security results.
Don’t believe the hype. First off, the data are suspect. The Pentagon refuses to share the methodology by which it arrived at the metrics used to claim success. Even if the progress is real, it is hardly encouraging when put in perspective. When discussing the alleged gains he has overseen, Gen. David H. Petraeus stated that they put us on a course to withdraw US troops from Iraq sometime nine or 10 years from now.
What the debate about military progress really does is serve as a distraction — a smokescreen — put forth by an administration that finds it rhetorically convenient to speak in terms of “victory” and “defeat.”
It serves to obscure the basic, fundamental fact that there is no military solution to the situation in Iraq. Our troops are trapped in a civil war and occupation, a situation where there can be no “victory.” Our continued presence there is not only breaking our military, it is undermining our national security and our efforts to fight international terrorism.
Members of the Bush administration understand this, just as they understand that there are no pretty or clean options for bringing a responsible end to our policy there. They are content to mouth the words of victory while they try to run out the clock, playing a cynical game of political “chicken,” where whoever acts to bring a responsible end to their failed policy will be accused of having lost Iraq.
The president’s latest request for an additional $50 billion to continue the “surge” — over and above the $147 billion war supplemental Congress is scheduled to consider — amounts to a call for another blank check to continue an open-ended commitment to a failed policy.
Members of Congress are going to have to decide whose interests they represent: a president who has staked his legacy on an unnecessary war, or the millions of Americans who understand that ending the occupation is the first step in repairing the damage the administration has done to the security of our nation and the world.
Despite the administration’s efforts to frame it as an issue of “victory” and “defeat,” the fact remains that the redeployment of US troops from Iraq is a precondition to restoring our national security and our efforts to fight international terrorism and putting us on a path toward a foreign policy that provides real solutions for global peace and security.
Redeployment is a precondition for engaging Iraq’s neighbors and the international community in a regional stability plan. We have a moral obligation to help rebuild Iraq, but neither Iraq’s neighbors nor the international community will truly engage in a regional stability plan as long as they believe that the United States intends to maintain an indefinite occupation.
Redeployment is a precondition for any successful effort to combat global terrorism. The US occupation of Iraq has become a rallying point for terrorist recruitment, training and fundraising, a factor that actively undermines our anti-terrorism efforts.
Congress has the power to bring a responsible end to the Bush administration’s failed policy. We should not approve another penny to continue that policy. Instead, we should use our constitutionally-mandated appropriations power to provide all the money necessary to fully fund the safe, timely and responsible redeployment of our troops and contractors from Iraq.
In July, US Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, and I, led a group of 70 members of Congress in writing to the president to tell him that we would only vote to provide funds to do two things: protect our troops and contractors and bring them home. As we return to Washington, I will continue that fight.
Last week, tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets in protests and vigils, calling on Congress to take a stand, and that is what we must do. The best way for us to do that is for members of Congress to commit to only providing funds for the safe, timely and responsible redeployment of our troops from Iraq.
US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a co-founder of the Out-of-Iraq Caucus.
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.