Attack on Iran and Congressional war powers
Most reporting from the McClatchy news service (formerly Knight-Ridder) stands above the competition, but nobody's perfect. A recent story by Matt Stearns vastly overstates Congressional opposition to a U.S. military strike in Iran. This passage [via TPM] made my jaw drop:
It's been the consensus for months among the Democrats who hold the majority that Bush must get congressional authorization before any military strike [on Iran].Orilly? Then why was a provision requiring such an authorization stripped from the Democratic leadership's version of the Pentagon supplemental spending bill in March before ever coming to a vote? Why did a similar standalone bill go down to defeat in May with 100 Democratic members voting against it? And why does Stearns not even mention either event?
He does report on Jim Webb's bill to forbid spending on any attack on Iran without explicit authorization from Congress. He notes Harry Reid's (verbal) support for it, but fails to ask why, if that's so, the bill hasn't even gotten committee consideration, much less a floor vote, as an amendment or on its own. Reid's chief of staff is quoted predicting that some Republicans will vote no on a resolution to authorize an attack on Iran, blandly assuming that Bush will ask for such an authorization. But it's clear from the sole Republican quoted that the only issue for them is whether there'll be a request for an authorizing resolution, not how they'd vote.
A military affairs aide to a Democratic senator (who would apparently only speak anonymously) predicts that an attack on Iran without Congressional authorization would create an "uproar over here. It would be a serious breach of (the limits on) executive power." Ooooh, an "uproar" in Congress; remind Dick Cheney to shake.
That part Stearns does get right:
Bush and Vice President Cheney take a broad view of executive power, and it's unclear what consequences Bush would face if he were to take action without authorization.Anyone under the illusion that Bush believes he needs authorization from Congress should read Webb's floor statement introducing his bill on March 5:
Many on Capitol Hill said the reaction would depend largely on the provocation used as a rationale for an attack.
[T]he President's "signing statement" accompanying the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq indicates that this Administration believes it possesses the broadest imaginable authority to commence military action without the consent of the Congress.The idea that in the unlikely event an authorization vote were to take place, enough Democrats or Republicans would oppose an attack on Iran to defeat it, is wishful thinking.
In signing the 2002 Iraq resolution, the President denied that the Congress has the power to affect his decisions when it comes to the use of our military. He shrugged off this resolution, stating that on the question of the threat posed by Iraq, his views and those of the Congress merely happened to be the same. He characterized the resolution as simply a gesture of additional support, rather than as having any legitimate authority. He stated, "my signing this resolution does not constitute any change in ... the President's constitutional authority to use force to deter, prevent, or respond to aggression or other threats to U.S. interests..."
The only conceivable thing that could bring about such a result is large-scale, visible protest and political pressure. Right now the carrier group Enterprise is alone in the Gulf; it will be joined by the Truman in late October or November. All this summer our ruling regime has been pushing the latest of the shifting rationales, supposed Iranian support for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, which the Senate last month voted 97-0 for the opportunity to consider seriously every 60 days from here on out (something else Stearns leaves out of his story). Will the regime "roll out the product" after Labor Day?
Update: 3:00 pm 15 August - More signs point to 'yes':
The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.In addition to other consequences, this move would (in the regime's view) put Iran within the scope of the existing authorization for use of military force passed in September 2001. No other Congressional action needed.
So, even if one accepts Stearns' characterization that leading Democrats believe that existing law would require Bush to come to Congress for authorizaton before an attack on Iran, they have just been given the clearest possible signal that that's not going to happen. If members of Congress truly want to make sure the American people and the administration understand that such authorization is required, then they need to get the Webb bill and its House counterpart passed, and quickly.
Update 2: 12:30 pm 16 August - Congress has helped lay the political groundwork for an attack in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way so far, and the sleepwalking will continue. From the same Post story linked in the first update:
The administration's move comes amid growing support in Congress for the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and in the House by Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). The bill already has the support of 323 House members.A quick check of the bill in Thomas shows that the House will be making itself part of the drumbeat for war as soon as it comes back from recess:
H.R.1400Yes, that'll certainly "enhance diplomatic efforts."
Title: To enhance United States diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by imposing additional economic sanctions against Iran, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep Lantos, Tom [CA-12] (introduced 3/8/2007) Cosponsors (323)
Latest Major Action: 8/2/2007 House Committee on Judiciary granted an extension for further consideration ending not later than Sept. 7, 2007.