War Party vs. the Constitution

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– January 4, 2002

With the Taliban dethroned and Osama dead or on the run, the War Party has begun pulling down the invasion maps of Iraq. Op-ed pages and the little magazines are in full blossom with fresh war plans.

One scheme is to make the Iraqi National Congress our Northern Alliance, march it out of Kuwait, capture Basra, cut off Saddam’s oil exports, and force his Revolutionary Guard to come out and fight – where they could be cut to pieces by U.S. air power.

But the military reception to this scheme has not been kind.

Alluding to the Bay of Pigs, where anti-Castro Cubans sent in by JFK were all dead or POWs in 48 hours, Gen. Anthony Zinni has called this plan a “Bay of Goats,” adding the United States would not “let some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London gin up an expedition.”

Another senior official reverted to barracks vocabulary to describe the neoconservatives behind this scheme as half-tailed “pissants” who never “smelled cordite.”

The War Party now concedes U.S. troops will probably be needed to crush Iraq. One plan calls for 50,000 U.S. troops to enter from Turkey, linking up with the Kurds, and another 50,000 to head north from Kuwait. Still another plan calls for virtual carpet-bombing.

What all these war plans lack, however, is an indispensable element. President Bush does not have the authority to launch a war on Iraq.

The Joint Resolution of Congress authorizing the attack on al-Qaida and Afghanistan is specific: “[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate forces against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, or committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons …”

Thus far, no hard evidence linking Iraq to Sept. 11 has been presented to the nation. Where, then, does Bush get the authority to make war on that country?

Indeed, the constant clamor of the War Party for “Action This Day!” is taking on an aspect of desperation, rooted in a fear perhaps that, if Bush does not strike now, the moment will pass and their window will close. But if the War Party has a persuasive case to make for war, why are they trying to stampede us?

After all, President Bush’s father faced a more formidable Iraq in 1990, but made his case for war to Congress and the country over six months and won the support of both. Why does the War Party want to circumvent the Constitution? What is its hidden agenda?

We are told Iraq is acquiring weapons of mass destruction and we must act now! But so are Libya and Syria, and Iran is even closer to a nuclear capacity. North Korea has atomic weapons, and we give them foreign aid. China has pointed atomic weapons at U.S. cities, and we just chaperoned her into the WTO. Why is Iraq, with a defense budget 1 percent of ours, the greater threat?

Comes the reply: If Saddam gets weapons of mass destruction, he will use them on his neighbors, or us. But all those neighbors – Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt – are telling us not to attack Iraq and warning us not to expect assistance if we do. And why would Saddam, who is grooming his younger son as his heir and who has built monuments to himself all over Iraq, order an act of terrorism against America that would rain down fire and destruction on him, his regime, his dynasty and his legacy. Evil though he may be, the man seems more a crafty survivor than a crazed suicide bomber.

Even so, on this issue of Iraq, the War Party may be right.

Perhaps Saddam will secretly acquire some awful weapon and use it in a suicide attack on America, and bring down the wrath of the United States on his head. But if the War Party believes this, let it make its case to Congress for a formal declaration of war. Why are they reluctant?

Today, Bush has united this country behind his campaign to punish those responsible for Sept. 11 and has built an international coalition that includes old adversaries like Russia. But if it is vital to our national security to oust Saddam – even if it means dividing America and shattering that coalition – let this president do as his father did: Make the case to the country and Congress, and ask for the constitutional authority to make war. No more presidential wars.

When the 13 colonies declared their independence, Jefferson gave the world our reasons, to show “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Ought we not do the same?

As for those who would bypass the Constitution to make war, before their country has had time to reflect on its consequences, they should cease to call themselves conservatives, “neo” or otherwise.

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