Will Congress Debate War with Iraq?

by , August 07, 2002

The Senate Foreign Relations committee spent much of last week hearing testimony about Iraq. A second U.S. invasion of Iraq seems a foregone conclusion, as the testimony focused not on the wisdom of such an invasion, but rather only on how and when it should be done. Never mind that our own State department and CIA have stated that Iraq is not involved in terrorism; never mind that we’re not discussing some of our so-called allies like Saudi Arabia, which actually funded and harbored those responsible for September 11th. None of those testifying questioned for a minute the President’s absolute authority to order a military invasion at will.

One expert not invited to testify at the Senate hearings was Scott Ritter. Mr. Ritter is a Republican, a twelve-year veteran of the Marine Corps, a former intelligence officer, and a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq. He is a widely respected expert on the region, having dealt directly with Iraqi officials – and he is a very harsh critic of Saddam Hussein. The only problem is that he disagrees with the President and Congress about our war plans, arguing that Iraq poses no military threat to the United States. So although he is perhaps the most qualified person in Washington to speak on the subject, his viewpoint was not heard.

On C-SPAN last week, Mr. Ritter called the Senate hearings nothing less than a "sham," likening them to a "Stalinist kangaroo court" rather than a real inquiry designed to educate Senators with facts about Iraq.

Whether one agrees with Mr. Ritter’s views or not, it’s clear the Senate conducted nothing more than show hearings designed to support the predetermined conclusion that America must invade Iraq.

The most fundamental question before Congress – whether the legislative branch once again will ignore its constitutional duty to declare war – remains unasked. The undeclared wars of the last 50 years – including Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq – represent nothing less than congressional cowardice, an unwillingness by members to carry out their sworn legislative duties. The result is an increasingly powerful presidency, and a terrible violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

War is war, no matter what we call it. When we bomb another country, when we send troops, planes, and warships to attack it, we are at war. Calling war a "police action" or a "peacekeeping mission" does not change the reality. War constitutionally cannot be waged by executive order – the President’s status as Commander-in-Chief gives him authority only to execute war, not initiate it. The Constitution requires a congressional declaration of war precisely because the founders wanted the most representative branch of government, not an imperial President, to make the grave decision to send our young people into harm’s way. We owe it to those young people and the Constitution to have a sober congressional debate before we initiate war in Iraq.

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