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Leashing the Dogs of War
Hon. Paul Findley

My former colleagues in the House of Representatives are grappling with President Bush's request for congressional authority to use "all means necessary" including "force" against Iraq, and "to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism."

The President is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.
Congressional Resolution proposed by George W. Bush, 9-20-02
It is a side bar of his broader decision, announced in a national security document on September 19, to establish the U.S. government as world policeman with the president as its chief. It is unlikely that Congress will ever face a request of higher risk to the well-being of the American people, as well as humankind worldwide.

In brief, the president asks Congress to support his decision to make war-making, even the pre-emptive type, a presidential policy tool. This is a radical change from America's traditional guiding principle that reserves war strictly as an instrument of last resort, mainly for repelling direct attack against U.S. territory or complying with treaty obligations.

Up to the present, the declaration of war, a term for war-making, has been accepted as the Constitution provides as the exclusive domain of Congress, the people's branch of government. In a section of the proposed resolution, war-making is listed, in effect, as a responsibility and power of the president, with the astounding implication that he must be free to order acts of war with little or no reference to the Congress.

Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States;
As stated in the president's new security document, the U.S. government shifts basic policy from deterrence to dominance of adversaries and arrogates enormous new authority to the president. To fulfill this self-appointed duty to police the world, our government declares that it must maintain absolute military supremacy worldwide and take all necessary action to assure that adversarial nations do not increase their military power. In a notable bit of arrogance, the plan even assumes U.S. responsibility to advise other nations - starting with China, of all places - on proper budget outlays for military purposes.

The document contemplates Pax America, a prospect that is unlikely to please more than a handful of nations. The plan relegates the United Nations and all other international institutions to a supportive role. Expressed plainly, if they take the lead that the U.S. government directs, fine. If not, they become irrelevant.

These startling, fundamental presidential decisions deserve searching examination. Congress must shed its normal reluctance to examine a president's decisions during wartime, especially at this time when U.S. troops are stationed in far-flung hostile arenas and war passions seem to be rising across America.

Non-governmental institutions, including academia, foundations, and editorial boards, must examine carefully the implications of the president's decisions before they can be implemented.

Is the attempt at worldwide rule prudent for any nation, even one as large, militarily strong, and democratically-based as the United States?

Should the president abandon America's long standing, principled opposition to pre-emptive acts of war? If the United States, still acknowledged as the world's chief advocate of the rule of law, undertakes a pre-emptive war against Iraq - a clear violation of international law, other states will reasonably conclude that such strikes are acceptable military conduct. In that case, the world may sink to the law of the jungle where only the fittest can survive.

Even if the consensus of nationwide debate leads Congress to conclude that pre-emptive acts of war can be justified, other fundamental questions demand thoughtful examination. Should Congress limit the president's authority to make pre-emptive strikes by requiring advance congressional approval in each case? If the answer is affirmative, can Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq be considered a sufficient threat to U.S. security to qualify for pre-emptive assault?

Congress needs to beware of unintended consequences. Whatever resolution is enacted by Congress must be drafted so carefully that it cannot be construed as a declaration of war, an interpretation that would automatically convey dictatorial powers to the president.

As a Member of Congress in 1848, Abraham Lincoln cited war-making as the "most oppressive of all kingly oppressions" and declared that the Constitution was so constructed "that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us." He added, "Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect."

The proposed resolution, in effect, lets the president make war at his pleasure. Congress must deny the president's request for fast approval of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. The issues involved are too monumental for a quick decision. Nevertheless, Congress should promptly enact an interim response. It could wisely enact as a substitute a concurrent resolution listing the circumstances in which the president may constitutionally order acts of war: namely, to comply with a treaty obligation or to repel a military attack against the territory of the United States, its possessions, military services engaged in peaceful maneuvers, or shipping; to participate in humanitarian rescue operations; or, in response to a declaration of war or other authority approved by a majority of the Members of each House of Congress. Enough said.

This would signify congressional opposition to any act of war beyond those enumerated, a cautionary notice to the White House that should suffice until a thorough, national debate on the president's plan can be concluded.

Paul Findley, a Member of Congress, 1961-83, was a major author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. He resides in Jacksonville, Illinois.