Weak, loose and decentralized is no way to run a war
Congress bears as full a responsibility for the Iraq war as President Bush.
It could end American involvement in Iraq tomorrow, simply by doing nothing. No risk of presidential veto is necessary; it could simply decline to enact the funds needed to keep the war going. But even a Democratic majority that campaigned against the war will not take such a controversial step. Congress' allergic reaction to important decisions shows why the legislature cannot be entrusted with wartime tactics and strategy.
Congress' support for the war is so clear even a caveman could get it. In winter 2002, bipartisan majorities of both the House and Senate authorized President Bush "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" to defend the national security "against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." It also authorized the president to use force to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions involving Iraq.
Congress has continued to fund the war without fail. The Senate has confirmed the generals nominated by President Bush to lead it, most recently General David Petraeus, who is in charge of the Baghdad surge. Some members of Congress, like Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have demanded more troops and a chance for victory. Others, like Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) want fewer soldiers and a quick pullout.
All of this shows why the Constitution vests in the President the authority to manage war. Congress is too large and unwieldy to take the swift and decisive action required in wartime. Even when it has access to the same intelligence as the executive branch, as with Iraq, Congress' loose, decentralized structure would paralyze American policy while foreign threats grow.
Congress has no political incentive to mount and see through its own wartime policy. Congressmen interested in keeping their seats at the next election do not want to take stands on controversial issues where the future is uncertain. They will avoid like the plague any vote that will anger large segments of the electorate no matter what they do. Members of Congress want the President to take the political risks and to be held accountable if failure results.
Congress' track record when it has opposed presidential leadership has not been a happy one. Perhaps the most telling example was the Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. Congress's isolationist urge kept the United States out of Europe at a time when democracies fell and fascism grew in their place. Even as Europe and Asia plunged into war, Congress passed Neutrality Acts designed to keep the United States out of the war. FDR arguably violated those laws to help the Allies and draw the nation into war against the Axis. While you may worry about a President's foreign adventurism, the real threat to our national security may come from inaction and isolationism.
Many point to the Vietnam War as an example of the faults of the "imperial presidency." But Vietnam also ushered in a period of congressional dominance that witnessed American setbacks in the Cold War, and the passage of the ineffectual War Powers Resolution. Congress passed it over President Nixon's veto, and no President, Republican or Democrat, has ever accepted the constitutionality of its 60-day limit on the use of troops abroad. Even Congress has never tried to enforce it.
Even if we could agree on Congress' constitutional powers to end the Iraq war, Congress will not use them forcefully. It does not want to be responsible for a rerun of the Vietnam war's aftermath. It has no serious alternatives to deal with the insurgency and the threat of regional war. No meaningful proposal to block Bush's Iraq strategy is likely to emerge from Congress until the war's outcome is already clear.
John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He served in the Bush Justice Department from 2001 to 2003, where he worked on constitutional issues involving war, and is the author of "War by Other Means" (2006).
Say no to King George