April 01, 2008

What is the authorization for remaining in Iraq?

I confess to a bias toward structured thinking, legalistic in character, which has taken shape over the years as the result of a native preference for logical analysis as reinforced by professional experience. I guess I'm saying I just like things to make sense. As one example, it seems absolutely clear to me that Article 1 of the United States Constitution confers upon Congress, and only Congress, the power to declare war. The Constitution was drafted by men who were far more wise and educated, both practically and classically, than any of the blow-dried, teeth-bleached, Botoxed specimens currently infesting the Capitol Building. The last time Congress declared a war was in December, 1941, and I suppose they did so then because there was no avoiding it. You can't just let the Japanese sink your navy and do nothing; had there been a way to skip the vote, I'm sure they would have. Nevertheless, despite any Congressional declaration of war, since 1945 it doesn't seem there have ever been two months together when the U.S. hasn't been involved in some international armed conflict. Congress, just to institutionalize its buck-passing, finally passed in 1970s the War Powers Act, which gives them a "supervisory" power over the President's war-making. If he's fighting a war, he has to sort of clear it with them, you know, if it looks like it might take awhile. This is only a mild exaggeration.

So instead of simply declaring war, which is just too scary, Congress "authorizes" war. It's okay with us, they're saying, if you think that's what you really need to do. They did so most recently and famously in October, 2002 with the "Authorization for Use of Military Force" against Iraq. This little exercise in casuistry contains something like 21 preamble "whereas" clauses, which is suspicious right there. Generally, if you have a valid and sufficient reason for doing something, a couple of sentences ought to do it. "Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. To defend ourselves, we declare war on Japan." You don't need a lot of shit like "Whereas, Japan looks like they really mean it;" and "whereas, Japan's a pretty scary country right now;" and "whereas, they really shouldn't be doing stuff like that." Everybody gets it. Japan bombed us. We're at war.

Of course, Iraq was nothing like that. George W. Bush wanted the war so badly, but really there was no compelling reason at all. Iraq had not bombed us, and they didn't really look scary. The weapons inspectors couldn't find anything. So on and on the Resolution went, clearing its throat, trying to work itself into a lather about Iraq. The U.N. Resolutions Saddam had ignored! Their possession of weapons of mass destruction! The oppression of their own people! Playing hide-and-seek with the inspectors! The threats they pose to the "stability" [sic] of the Persian Gulf! The presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq! My favorite was a reference to the 1998 "regime change" resolution of Congress, making it the "policy" of the U.S. to get rid of Saddam (also making it Bill Clinton's policy to get everyone to think about something other than Monica Lewinsky). In other words, Congress was referring to its own "decision" to get rid of Saddam as evidence that we needed to get rid of Saddam. It's a neat circularity of the kind Congress engages in routinely without thinking how, um, stupid it looks. "We must get rid of Saddam because as we stated in 1998, it's our policy to get rid of Saddam! Harruummmmppphhhh!"

But after all the endless whereas clauses, Congress zeroed in on why L'il George was given this permission slip:

(a) AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

At this point, does "Iraq" pose any continuing threat to the United States? And are there any "relevant" UN resolutions which haven't been enforced? The answer to both questions is no. I would assume that "Iraq" must mean the duly elected government of Iraq. We can't mean just anyone who happens to be in Iraq -- that would put us at odds with any country where there are anti-U.S. sentiments, and in the Bush era especially, that means the whole world. The governing coalition of Iraq led by Maliki doesn't pose any continuing threat, does he? If he does, why do we fight alongside Nouri? When we said "Iraq" before, we meant Saddam; by a parity of reasoning, we must now mean "Maliki & Co." Are Maliki and his government violating any UN Resolutions? Which ones?

Bush has admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 (it was probably his single biggest slip-up in terms of inadvertently telling the truth). So he's admitted that whatever we call "al-Qaeda" in Iraq is not the al-Qaeda who attacked us. Everyone who has studied the issue objectively (other than Dick Cheney, in other words) has concluded that Iraq had nothing to do with the planning or execution of 9-11.

So what the hell are we still doing there, from a legal, logical and Constitutional standpoint? What part of the Authorization said anything about a perpetual, open-ended commitment of the military to aid in nation building? Okay, Congress has wimped out under Article 1 and refuses to take charge of war declarations. But if it's going to use "authorizations," shouldn't Congress at least insist that the President is operating under such authority? Is that too much to ask?

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