The War Party’s Achilles’ Heel?

Those who pressed Congress to take responsibility for its actions in 2002 – in other words, to either unambiguously declare war upon Iraq or unambiguously decline to do so – were, of course, handled badly. Congress didn’t declare war, roundly defeated a resolution declaring war, and in fact specifically declared in its “resolution authorizing the use of force” that it wasn’t declaring war by including a “war powers reservation” clause … but nonetheless surreptitiously handed to President Bush the power, extraconstitutional and entirely without basis in law, to do so himself.

Can the 109th Congress, which in its composition tilts even more heavily toward Bush’s party than the 108th, be expected to strap on some testicles and stand up for America? Offhand, it doesn’t seem likely. But it’s just barely possible. The butcher’s bill in Iraq adds up to about $4.6 billion, and around 60 American lives, each month. The latter statistic provides an incentive to action. The former statistic provides a means:

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills …”

– U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 7

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law …”

– U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8

Undoing Bush’s usurpation of the congressional prerogative to declare war would be a difficult thing indeed. Having connived in that usurpation, Congress is understandably hesitant to make too much noise about it. And there are those in Congress who might even stand on principle (as odd a sight as one might ever expect to see in Washington, but I’m given to understand that it occasionally occurs) and hold that the usurped powers must remain usurped for the purpose of enabling instant reaction to military exigency, i.e., that the Constitution’s strictures are outdated in that respect (which begs the question of why no amendment to the Constitution has been proposed by way of remedy, but let’s not digress too much, folks).

How, then, to skin the cat?

Even those congresscritters who hold that the executive must possess a power of “quick reaction” sans declaration of war by Congress would presumably not hold that the situation in Iraq meets the specifications. The war is nearly two years old. If ever an imminent threat to the Republic existed, that threat is long since vanquished. And though Congress’ 2002 default on its responsibilities remains odious, that default can remain untouched in deference to the “quick reaction” folks. The war can be concluded by Congress via its power of the purse.

Bush is set to come before Congress in the next few days with a request for $80 billion for continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress can give him that money.

Or Congress can withhold it.

If Congress simply writes the check, then it is, by implication, sanctioning the war, the president’s conduct of the war, and the continuation of the war.

If Congress takes a cue from Nancy Reagan and just says no, then either the war comes to a screeching halt or America is plunged into Constitutional crisis as Bush reallocates money appropriated for other purposes to support military operations. If he’s impeached, the damage is done anyway. If he’s not, the Congress becomes irrelevant, a vestigial organ of an extinguished Republic. The hardline antiwar activists advocate just such a course, albeit with the expectation that their demands will not be met and merely the hope that the making of them will provide a rallying point for antiwar sentiment in Congress.

It seems to me, however, that this is one instance where moderation might best serve the hardline cause.

Bush wants $80 billion. America wants the war brought to an end. If each side is willing to meet the other’s price, then we’ve got a win-win situation.

Democrats in Congress – who, for the most part, will fight to end the war if they believe their constituencies will stand behind them in that fight – have only to maintain party solidarity and convince a few Republicans – specifically, 16 in the House (assuming that Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont caucuses with them on the issue, as seems likely) and six in the Senate (likewise assuming that Independent James Jeffords, also of Vermont, goes with the Democrats) – in order to hold the disposition of Bush’s $80 billion supplemental appropriation request in their hands.

If such a coalition can be brought together, then it’s as simple as offering the White House a quid pro quo: Congress authorizes the $80 billion, if the request is accompanied by a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2005. No commitment to that timeline, no money – and if the commitment is made and not met, then the appropriation language contains a poison pill: An impeachment finding against the president for misappropriation of $80 billion in government funds, automatically activated by the presence of so much as one U.S. soldier on Iraqi soil on Jan. 1, 2006.

Naturally, such a compromise is dependent upon several factors.

Are there 218 U.S. Representatives and 51 U.S. Senators who are willing to stand up for America and for the men and women serving in the nation’s armed forces under the current abusive regime? I’d like to think so. But I don’t know.

Is the president willing to sacrifice the apocalyptic visions of the Republican Surrealists to realpolitik in order to save his presidency? Is he – dare I say it? – perhaps even wishing that Congress would force him to make that sacrifice, so that he might end the war with face and hope to salvage a presidential legacy that extends beyond the title “war criminal?”

Once upon a time, FDR entertained a group of lobbyists, pushing some proposal or another. After the requisite amount of speechifying by the delegation, he held up his hand and said “stop. You’ve convinced me. Now go out and bring pressure on me.” This week, as in so many weeks past, we’ve had our share of speechifying on the floor of Congress about the path of lies on which the nation rolled to war. The time for the speechifying is over. Now it’s time for the pressure.

Author: Thomas Knapp

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism, publisher of Rational Review News Digest, and moderator of’s commenting/discussion community.