"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
John Brummett’s Jan. 18 column in the Arkansas Times cites U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder as indicating that Congress “bears the delicate obligation…to pay for whatever the commander in chief demands of the troops while opposing him where feasible…” in the continuance of the Iraqi invasion.
Those quoted general remarks are Brummett’s paraphrasing of the congressman, which is unfortunate, because we need to know what our elected official specifically says about this vital issue. And whether the congressman will forcefully push for troop withdrawal to halt the rising death toll of Americans and Iraqis in a war the U.S. cannot win. This should be particularly important to Arkansans since at least 1,700 of our state’s National Guard troops are currently serving in Iraq.
If Brummett’s take on Snyder’s interview is accurate, then Snyder seems to be slowly falling prey to the narrow-visioned arrogance of power that allows our federal government to keep killing our young while plummeting our country deeper into debt, vainly hoping to find an “honorable” conclusion. He, the Congress, and the people would be better served if our lawmakers would finally act responsibly.
The reality is this: Within the borders of the United Statesneither political rhetoric, nor United Nations documents, nor the president’s bible, nor Congressional resolutions take precedence over the U.S. Constitution in designating who has the power to make and end war.
The Constitution states clearly and simply in Article 1, Sec. 8, “The Congress shall have power…to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”
That’s the only paragraph that speaks specifically to war.
The article also provides Congress with powers “to raise and support armies…to provide and maintain a navy; to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and to “provide for calling forth the militia,” which we would call the National Guard.The Constitution’s Article II, Sec. 2 states, “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.” The “calling” is left up to Congress, not the president.
That’s it. Nowhere in the executive powers article does it say the president has the right to declare or wage war at his own will and in his own way.
The president, as commander in chief, should execute — not his own will — but the will of Congress, and therefore more closely the will of the American people.
We have found presidents in our history, including our present one, who have usurped that will and power, usually from a weak-kneed Congress.
One such Congress, following Vietnam, felt a political need to “clarify” the roles of the two branches regarding war-making powers. The result was the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
The resolution stresses that the president can only send forces into hostile action in one of three ways: (1) Congress’s declaration of war; (2) “specific statutory authorization,” meaning Congress must pass a law allowing the hostile action; or (3) “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” (Even this resolution does not say a threatened attack, as Bush falsely alleged with Iraq.)
The Congress in 1973 showed its weakness in later paragraphs, where the resolution does give in, wordily allowing the president to initiate hostile action if he quickly reports back to Congress, justifying the action’s legality.
The problem is, Congress does not have the Constitutional right to abdicate its power to declare and wage war to the executive branch. That would take a Constitutional amendment. But this resolution basically does that.
This Congressional resolution was also the primary document cited by President Bush’s deputy counsel, John C. Yoo, in his Sept. 25, 2001 memorandum opinion on the president’s having “broad constitutional power to use military force.”
Congress also cited the 1973 document in its 2002 resolution allowing the president to send American forces into Iraq.
One would unfortunately expect a weak Republican Congress, like the recent one, to support a same-party president’s unconstitutional usurpation of war powers. But the new Democratic Congress should honor the Constitution by creating its own immediate invasion of the presidency, challenging the president by refusing any future funding of what remains a war based on a lie, and bringing American troops home.
And Congressman Snyder, who opposed the Iraqi resolution in the early going, should take the lead in defending both the Constitution and Arkansans in Iraq who are clearly in harm’s way.
No one else in Congress from Arkansas seems honestly determined to do that, including the state’s two senators and the junior senator from New York.
Roger Armbrust has worked as a journalist both in his hometown of Little Rock and in New York City. He writes about issues, Congress and management, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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