Friday, May 25, 2007

Where is the resolution?

Some time back, there was an exchange between Montana Headlines and 4&20 Blackbirds regarding the constitutionality and wisdom of cutting off funding to the Iraq war without first deauthorizing it formally (back when that wonderful little cerebral site was still in action.) The initial MH post is here, the 4& 20 response here, with an MH followup here. In the final 4&20 post of the series, Jay Stevens agreed with us that a clear path to ending the war was with a new or revised Iraq war resolution – although by no means was there agreement that this would be the only constitutional way to end the war.

While Montana Headlines isn't particularly fond of Norman Podhoretz's world-view when it comes to military action (last we heard, he thinks that Iraq has been going just fine all along and that military action against Iran will go equally fine) -- he did write a very interesting book about 25 years ago, back when he was a new convert to conservatism (conservatism of a peculiar sort, granted, but he meant well.) That book was Why We Were In Vietnam.

The interesting thing about the book was not that it made a case for whether we should have been in Vietnam or whether we could have won it. What was intriguing about Podhoretz's view was how he summarized the ways in which each of the Presidents involved -- Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- tried to win the war "on the cheap."

We have been watching an administration and a Congress that in various ways – sometimes taking playing tag-team, sometimes acting in concert – have for several years tried to do this war on the cheap. Not enough troops at the right times, not enough foresight and planning, not enough realism about how the Middle Eastworks, not enough humility, and not enough domestic political unity behind the war – even while everyone is eager to “support the troops.”

Congress this week was right to provide ongoing funding without a timetable or other instructions to the executive on method. It is not the job of Congress to tell the generals in the field how to conduct a military action. It is, however, Congress's duty to fund any action that it has authorized -- and the Iraq action is still Congressionally authorized. The game-playing with deadlines and benchmarks and timetables and funding was properly brushed aside by the President.

Republicans in Washington believe that the alternative to fighting to provide stability in Iraq is unacceptable regional chaos. Democrats are in a situation where they promised to end the war in the last election, but lack the courage to introduce, let alone pass, a new resolution that specifically revokes the previous Congressional authorization.

If they were to do introduce a new resolution, they should also state that Congress made a mistake by not voting -- up or down -- in the first place to declare war on Iraq, as the Constitution indicates Congress should do when we attack another country. Such a resolution to declare war may have failed, thereby preventing this misadventure. But if Congress had indeed declared war, the outcome would likely have been very different.

Congressional Republicans and the President may be deeply mistaken and delusional about having any hope for achieving stability, but at least they are voting and acting in accordance with their convictions. Former Sen. Fred Thompson has taken the position that this one last effort must be made, and given the fact that Gen. Petraeus (whom nearly everyone claims to support and hold in high esteem) believes the surge has a chance at achieving stability, he is probably right.

Those Congressional Democrats who ran on a platform of ending the war, such as our Sen. Tester, should have the courage to introduce a new Iraq resolution that revokes authorization for the war. Doing so would not be unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops. Yes, it would go down to defeat because too many Democrats fear the political consequences of appearing weak and because they fear taking responsibility for how the region would explode after our withdrawal, but they should go on record.

How to conduct a war is the responsibility of the military, under the commander in chief.Whether we are in a state of war, however, is the decision of the American people, expressed through their constitutionally elected representatives in Congress.

For now, Congress has apparently decided that the overall will of the American people – brave talk by progressives about a “mandate to end the war” in the last election notwithstanding – is to remain on task in Iraq. Until that changes, Congress should fund the war without strings attached and support the President.

If it does change, and Congress decides that the will of the American people is to end the war, expressing that will through an official withdrawal of authorization, the President should arrange for an orderly withdrawal, with an emphasis on the safety of our troops.

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