Monday, March 19, 2007

Congress Should Invoke Vietnam-era Law to Force Bush to Bring Our Troops Home From Iraq

With Bush Vowing to Veto Any and All Bills That Impose a Timetable for a Troop Withdrawal, Congress Must Invoke the 1973 War Powers Act to Bring This Vietnam-like Quagmire to an End -- Or Face the Wrath of the Voters in '08

By Skeeter Sanders

Tomorrow (Tuesday) will mark the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein.

About the only thing in the nation's capital that hasn't changed in the four years since the invasion began is President Bush's insistence the war in Iraq can be won. Almost everyone else outside the Bush administration and its supporters insists otherwise.

With more than 3,200 American troops having lost their lives in Iraq -- the vast majority of them in the last two years alone, long after Saddam's forced ouster -- and with no end to this increasingly Vietnam-like quagmire in sight, the feeling in Washington is, to quote one of baseball legend Yogi Berra's most memorable malapropisms, "deja vu all over again."

Public support for the Iraq war has fallen to its lowest level to date and is on the brink of matching the record-low popularity of the Vietnam conflict. Republicans, who held a stranglehold on power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for six years, lost control of Congress chiefly because of voters' mounting disgust over the conflict.

Even the president has been forced to acknowledge that the tactical approach to the war must change. Yet like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon before him on Vietnam -- which they both called part of the broader Cold War against communism that had to be won -- Bush adamantly insists that Iraq is part of the broader war on terrorism that must be won.

Similarities Between Iraq And Vietnam Can No Longer Be Ignored or Denied

There are two things that Vietnam and Iraq have in common:

1) Both wars began with the stated aim of toppling a regime. In Vietnam, it was the overthrow of French colonial rule, which was achieved with the final routing of the French by the Viet Minh at Diembienphu on August 1, 1954. In Iraq, it was the overthrow of Saddam's brutal Baathist dictatorship, which was achieved when U.S. troops captured Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

2) Both wars quickly degenerated into bloody civil conflicts once their originally-stated goals were achieved. In Vietnam, it was the north against the south following the defeat of the French colonialists. In Iraq, it's the minority Sunni Muslims against the majority Shia Muslims following the ouster of Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

It is this commonality between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam that simply can no longer be ignored or denied. There are far too many Americans over a certain age -- including this blogger -- who can clearly see Vietnam history repeating itself in Iraq.

The players are different and the ideologies are different. But the results are the same.

So the debate over Iraq has shifted away from whether it was proper to launch a pre-emptive attack against a nation that, it turned out, did not possess weapons of mass destruction -- contrary to the adamant insistence of the Bush White House that it did -- to how soon should U.S. troops leave, now that everyone except the White House admits that Iraq has disintegrated into a civil war.

And if Vietnam proved anything, it's that the United States cannot win another country's civil war -- especially one that's rooted in religious differences that most Americans, indeed most Westerners, do not understand.

Away From the White House, a Growing Awareness in Washington of Iraq Quagmire

"The war that we the Congress authorized the president to engage in is different than the one we're in today," acknowledged Representative C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Florida), an ardent supporter of the war whose seat has become a major target by Democrats in next year's election. "I think we have to have a very serious appraisal of how you conduct yourself in that type of situation," Young said, referring to the mounting sectarian warfare in Iraq.

Young isn't the only supporter of the war who's now calling it into question. After four years, the president's strongest allies and sharpest critics alike are in deepening angst over the war and over how far Congress should go to intervene, now that everyone outside the White House now agrees that the war has gone badly.

White House officials and many legal experts contend the Constitution gives the president supreme authority on foreign policy matters and control of the armed forces, whereas Congress' clearest option is to cut off money. Democrats, reluctant to restrict that money for fear of being accused of abandoning the troops, are considering laws that would set a deadline for the war. If these bills pass, Bush is expected to veto the legislation or ignore it.

Yet the Constitution clearly gives Congress exclusive authority to declare war and to raise – and fund – a standing military force. Congress never issued a formal declaration of war against Iraq. In fact, it hasn’t issued a formal declaration of war since 1941. So the very legality of the war in Iraq – indeed, of every war the U.S. has fought in after World War II – is open to question.

How much longer the president can hold out is uncertain. His January 10 announcement that he planned to send in 21,500 more combat troops found support among most Republicans. Yet even they say the clock is ticking.

"If this current strategy doesn't work, the options aren't good," said Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota). If the violence continues, "you're going to see more and more people suggest we've got to do something different."

A Steady Erosion of Support for the War Following One Outrage After Another

The inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq did not help in maintaining support for the war. The claim that Saddam possessed such weapons was the main justification the administration used – forcefully and repeatedly – for the war, creating a crisis of credibility for the administration.

Public acceptance of the war began eroding soon after Saddam’s ouster, as American casualties mounted and U.S. troops, initially focused on fighting Sunni insurgents, found themselves having to grapple with mounting Sunni-Shiite violence.

This past week, even the Pentagon said the violence was taking on aspects of a civil war.

Adding to the erosion of support is the nationwide outrage that has ensued following revelations of American forces abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib; the massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha – the worst wartime atrocity committed by U.S. troops since My Lai; and, most recently, the substandard care of wounded American troops at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Such skepticism was rare when the war began four years ago. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle lined up in support of the U.S.-led invasion, with most Democrats, then the minority party, unwilling to appear reluctant to prevent another potential terrorist attack on U.S. soil as bad as -- if not worse than -- 9/11.

Four years later, the Democrats are now in firm control of the House and have a one-seat majority in the Senate, thanks to two independents -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. But they remain as reluctant as ever to exercise the full extent of their constitutional power to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Even the Iraqis Unhappy With U.S., British Presence in Their Country, New Poll Finds

Even the Iraqis themselves have grown increasingly disenchanted with the U.S. and British presence in their country, as well as their own government, a new opinion poll released early today (Monday) reports.

The survey, conducted by D3 Systems for the British Broadcasting Corporation, ABC News, the German TV network ARD and USA Today, essentially asked Iraqis the question that Ronald Reagan made famous in his 1980 presidential debate against Jimmy Carter: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

The answer, according to the poll, is a resounding no. It paints a decidely pessimistic picture of Iraqis' confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and in coalition forces.

Only 18 percent of more than 2,000 Iraqis surveyed said they have confidence in the U.S.-led coalition, while opinion is almost evenly divided on whether the Iraqi government is competent enough to stand on its own two feet.

An overwhelming 86 percent of Iraqis questioned expressed concern about someone in their household becoming a victim of violence. And in a result sure to shock American officials, a bare majority -- 51 percent -- said that attacking U.S. forces was "acceptable."

The latest findings are a marked departure from the outlook among Iraqis at this time two years ago, when respondents to a similar survey were generally hopeful about the future. Asked whether they thought reconstruction efforts in Iraq had been effective, more than two-thirds of Iraqis said they felt they had not.

The new poll also paints a picture of an increasingly polarized Iraq, revealing acutely diverging views between Sunnis and Shiites -- with the Sunni minority appearing far more pessimistic. The gloom is most keenly felt across central Iraq, including Baghdad, where Sunnis are most numerous.

Paradoxically, however, a whopping 94 percent of Iraqis surveyed said they didn't want Iraq to be divided along sectarian lines.

It's Time for Congress to Invoke the 1973 War Powers Act

With mounting public opposition to the war, the new Congress must face the fact that it is under a clear mandate from the American people to bring this Vietnam-like quagmire to an end -- and will face severe political consequences in 2008 if it doesn't act to do so.

While the Democrats lack the votes to override almost-certain Bush vetoes of bills to impose a timetable for a troop withdrawal, Congress does possess a legal "trump card" that it could use to force the president to begin a pullout -- a "trump card" that has been on the books for more than 30 years.

That "trump card" is the War Powers Act of 1973.

Passed by Congress during the Vietnam War, the War Powers Act was designed to ensure that Congress and the White House share in making decisions that may get the U.S. involved in hostilities overseas. Under the War Powers Act, the president must consult with Congress prior to the start of any hostilities involving U.S. troops.

But a key – and almost-forgotten – provision of the Act is a requirement that the president withdraw U.S. forces from hostilities if Congress has not issued a formal declaration of war or has not passed a resolution authorizing the use of force within 60 days before the start of hostilities.

Lack of Formal Congressional Declaration of War Against Iraq is Key

In this blogger's opinion, a formal congressional declaration of war constitutionally trumps any authorization by Congress in lieu thereof for the president to use military force. And I'm not alone. Some legal scholars have maintained for decades that all military actions taken by the president without a prior formal congressional declaration of war is unconstitutional.

Indeed, neither the first President Bush nor his son ever asked Congress for a formal declaration of war against Iraq (or against Afghanistan). Neither, for that matter, did President Lyndon Johnson ask for a formal declaration of war against Vietnam in 1964, nor did President Harry Truman ask for a declaration of war against North Korea in 1950.

Congress passed the War Powers Act with the clear intent to reinforce its authority and to explicitly bar any president from unilaterally waging war without congressional approval. However, this blogger agrees with these legal scholars’ opinion that there is nothing in the Constitution that allows Congress to cede its war authority to the president without first issuing a formal declaration of war.

Every president since Nixon has complained that the War Powers Act infringes on his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Bush is no exception. Yet the Supreme Court has never had an opportunity to rule directly on the matter, since no president -- not even Bush -- has ever mounted a legal challenge to the law.

In the absence of a formal congressional declaration of war against Iraq, the president is therefore required under the War Powers Act to make a formal request to Congress to extend the time limit every 30 days (presumably when "unavoidable military necessity" requires additional action for a safe withdrawal) until hostilities cease.

Congress Has Other Options – Namely, the Power of the Purse

Of course, Congress has another option aside from the War Powers Act: It can refuse to approve any further funding for the war unless and until the president accepts a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

While they lack the votes to do so in the Senate, the Democrats can stand firm in the House. Since the Constitution requires all spending bills to originate in and be approved by the House before they can go to the president, House Democrats can hold out and hold out until the White House concedes.

Forget about White House and GOP rhetoric about Democrats not supporting the troops. The American people spoke loud and clear in the voting booth last November. The American people need to forcefully remind House (and Senate) Democrats that they put them in charge of Congress with a clear mandate to bring this war to an end – and that they’d damn well better fulfill that mandate.

At the same time, the American people must send congressional Republicans an equally unmistakable message that they are needlessly prolonging the war with their obstructionism. The GOP needs to be reminded that a solid 60 percent majority of the American people want our troops brought home as soon as humanly possible – and that the Republicans' prolongation of the war will cost them dearly at the ballot box in 2008.

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Volume II, Number 14
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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