Sunday, November 04, 2007


George Will has a piece out today (read it at the StarTrib) about the Presidential authority to go to war, and specifically about whether President Bush could order an attack on Iran without explicit Congressional approval. Although it was surprising to see the conservative Will argue in favor of the Democratic controlled Congress, I was nodding my head in agreement with him most of the way through the article.

Congress can end unfettered executive warmaking by deciding to. That might not require, but would be facilitated by, enacting the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. Introduced last month by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, it technically amends, but essentially would supplant, the existing War Powers Resolution, which has been a nullity ever since it was passed in 1973 over President Nixon's veto.
Jones' measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the
founders insisted it be, a "collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents
from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or American troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution and would permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.

The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war says simply that in this day and age we no longer need to wait to be attacked. If by means of human or technical intelligence we can clearly see another country as a impending threat, than military force is justified. In my mind, the Bush doctrine does need approval from Congress, as Will argues, because it keeps you honest. There must be enough demonstrable proof of the impending threat that you can persuade the US Congress to agree with you. Just as was done prior to the invasion of Iraq.

But the situation in Iran is quite a bit different. First and foremost, the causus belli, or cause for war, would not be just a future threat. Iran is actively killing US military personnel in Iraq. That is cause for war. I tend to agree with Norman Podhoretz, who says we have been at war with Iran and fundamental Islam since 1979, we just haven't admitted it yet. But if killing American soldiers doesn't meet the standard for war, what does?

The second major difference between Iran and Iraq is the goal of the use of force. In Iraq we set the goal of regime change, since we would never be able to trust Saddam's declarations of disarmament. It's a conveniently overlooked fact that two days before the war began, the US offered to let Saddam and his sons flee Iraq and avert the war. Hardly the actions of a bloodthirsty cowboy president looking to expand the American empire. But in Iran the goal of military action would be to degrade or destroy the nuclear program. No invasion, no large land armies streaming across the border. More likely a concentrated bombing campaign, similar to the air war in Kosovo, which Will mentions-

For today's Democrats, resistance to unilateral presidential warmaking reflects not principled constitutionalism but petulance about the current president. Democrats were supine when President Clinton launched a sustained air war against Serbia without congressional authorization.

In fact, it would likely be very similar to Operation Desert Fox, the 4 day bombing campaign in 1998 undertaken by President Clinton to 'degrade Iraq's WMD capabilities'. No Congressional authority was asked for or needed.

Certainly, attacking Iran would have grave consequences, at home and abroad. World opinion of the US would likely fall some more, and Iran may decide to force the issue by invading Iraq, or escalating it's support of terrorism around the world. We would be stretched further militarily, and the anti war movement, have been recently silenced by success in Iraq, would likely explode.

But waiting to act in Iran until they have nuclear capability would be a far worse scenario. Imagine Iran demanding a complete US withdrawal from the Middle East or threatening a nuclear attack on New York City, or Washington DC. Imagine Iran making good on their threats to Israel, and firing a nuke at Tel Aviv. Imagine Israel responding and World War III starting in the Mid East.

Simply put, the risks of attacking Iran pale in comparison to the risk of waiting until they are infinitely more dangerous.

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