Who’s Defending the Constitution?

President Bush charges that a President Kerry – by acting constitutionally – would have given foreigners a veto over our launching a preemptive war.

By law, the constitutional powers of the president to "introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities" are limited, and can only be exercised "pursuant to; (a) a declaration of war, (b) specific statutory authorization, or (c) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

When Bush went to Congress in September 2002, seeking "specific statutory authorization" to invade Iraq, he based his case on a just completed highly-classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which supposedly contained positive proof that Saddam was reconstructing his nuke and chem-bio programs, with the intention of supplying them to Islamic terrorists for use against us.

Accordingly, Congress enacted the "Congressional Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq."

However, the authority given by Congress – the authority that Senator Kerry voted for – was conditional.

Highly conditional.

Before resorting to force, Bush was required to satisfy Congress that "reliance on peaceful means alone will not adequately protect the national security of the United States."

Hence, Bush’s authority was contingent upon Bush first pursuing a diplomatic solution through the United Nations. If UN diplomacy failed, Bush was then supposed to seek a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the use of "all necessary means’ to disarm Saddam Hussein. If Bush got such a new Security Council resolution, then Congress gave him specific authority to use our armed forces to enforce it.

By March – as a result of the totally intrusive inspections by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency – all congresspersons knew that the still highly-classified NIE on which they had based their vote back in October had been wrong-wrong-wrong.

It was obvious to everyone – especially to Bush and the neo-crazies – that Saddam did not pose an immediate threat to us or to anyone else. Hence, no such new Security Council resolution would be forthcoming.

How then to explain Bush’s absolutely stupefying "determination" on March 19 that no "further diplomatic or other peaceful means will adequately protect the national security of the United States from the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

Bush went ahead and launched – unsanctioned by either Congress or the UN Security Council – the war of aggression against Iraq he had apparently been planning ever since he was inaugurated president.

Kerry did mildly object at the time to Bush’s resorting to war when diplomacy appeared to be working. But it was Senator Robert Byrd – not Senator Kerry – who best made the case in the Senate on February 12, 2003:

"This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time.

"The doctrine of preemption – the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future – is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense.

"It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter.

"And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our – or some other nation’s – hit list.

"There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.

"To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice.

"This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making.

"Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time."

Bush now charges that strictly complying – as Kerry would have done and Bush most certainly did not do – with the "specific statutory authority" Congress gave him would effectively have meant giving foreigners a veto over his launching a war of aggression against Iraq.

Perhaps, but by acting without "specific statutory authority" Bush has violated his oath to "defend the Constitution of the United States."

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.