States Consider Calling Back National Guards from Iraq

State legislators in Vermont introduced legislation Wednesday demanding the state’s National Guard troops return from Iraq. Lawmakers in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are poised to push similar legislation.

At the heart of the matter is a contention that President George W. Bush’s legal authority to deploy the National Guard to Iraq has expired.

“Congress laid out a pretty specific mission for the Guard in 2002,” Vermont State Representative Michael Fisher (D-Lincoln) told OneWorld. “That mission was two things: it was to defend the national security of the United States [against] the threat posed by Iraq, and, two, to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. I don’t believe there are any credible arguments that the state of Iraq poses a risk to the Untied States or that there may still be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

“If the president believes there’s still a need to have our National Guard in Iraq to stabilize that country or whatever, it’s his job to go back to Congress and ask for that authorization,” Fisher added. “The president doesn’t have the authority to permanently federalize our Guards.”

The legislation comes amid increasing antiwar sentiment in the Green Mountain state. In 2005, voters in 48 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on the State Legislature to study the effect on Vermont of numerous deployments to Iraq and asked Vermont’s congressional delegation ”to work to restore a proper balance between the powers of the states and that of the federal government over state National Guard units.”

The Vermont State Legislature also asked the president and the Congress to withdraw the U.S. military from Iraq.

Vermont, like other rural parts of the country, has suffered disproportionately from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, say analysts. A November 2006 report by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found soldiers from rural Vermont had the highest death rate in the nation.

A June 2007 survey sponsored by the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies found rural support for the war slipping: some 45 percent of rural Americans said then that the United States should “stay the course” in Iraq, down from 51 percent in 2004.

And 60 percent of respondents said they knew someone serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Despite popular sentiment and rising casualties, Vermont’s Republican Governor Jim Douglas reacted coldly to Fisher’s legislation.

“This is a federal issue,” spokesman Jason Gibbs told the Burlington Free Press. “Governor Douglas would like to see Washington develop a strategy to bring the troops home.”

The Free Press reported that, according to Gibbs, the Vermont governor’s legal staff looked into the authority over the National Guard when the issue was under public scrutiny several years ago. They found that states had no legal basis for refusing to deploy National Guard units, Gibbs said. “To change that, Congress would have to act.”

This is not the first time states have looked into recalling their National Guards from an unpopular foreign conflict.

In the 1986, several governors opposed to President Ronald Reagan’s covert military operations in Central America refused to allow their National Guard units to participate in exercises there.

That fall, Congress, led by Mississippi Congressmen and longtime National Guard ally G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery, passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that prevented governors from withholding units from federal training in the future.

Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich took the lead in challenging the new law, but after losing several appeals, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the law’s constitutionality in 1990.

Many constitutional authorities argue that the Montgomery Amendment essentially ended any power a governor might have to veto deployment of National Guard units.

But the bill’s backers say the war in Iraq is different than the 1980s conflict in Central America.

“In the 1980s, President Reagan said he wanted to send the National Guard to Central America for ‘training,'” said Benson Scotch, a former chief staff attorney to Vermont’s Supreme Court, who helped write the bill. “There is no such thing as a limited authorization by Congress for a permanent ongoing call-up.”

One World