A Blunt Tool
As I said to a colleague the other day, this is a great time to teach the constitution. Unfortunately, by definition that makes it a difficult time for the nation.
A majority of Congress, including a few Republicans, has declared that it has no confidence in President Bush’s conduct of the war. Furthermore, both the results of the 2006 election and current polls, have led them to believe that this is also the will of the people.
Unlike parliamentary systems, our constitution provides no mechanism for unseating a president on “no-confidence” grounds. The constitution does not require President Bush to accept their verdict, and he has not done so. Because the opposition to Bush does not have a 2/3 majority, it cannot stop his actions in the short run. For the same reason, impeachment—or at least conviction and removal from office—is outside the power of the majority.
Thus the congressional majority is left with one weapon, the power of the purse. It may not be able to withdraw the US from the war (because of Bush’s veto power) but it can put limits on future military funds.
Conditional release of funds is a blunt and unwieldy weapon. Most obviously, it reduces President Bush’s ability to maneuver diplomatically or militarily. One does not have to agree with Rudy Giuliani’s “waive the white flag” rhetoric to realize that Bush supporters have a point about that.
But that brings us back to the lack of confidence. If the majority of the populace and of the Congress no longer has faith in Bush’s competence and/or integrity, what should that congressional majority do? They have no ability to administer foreign policy. They cannot perform the diplomatic and political maneuvers, secret negotiations, and other slights-of-hand that a competent president would use in extricating us from the situation.
All they can do for now is either represent that lack of faith and not order new funding or set conditions on that funding, despite the problem of telegraphing our intensions. Or they can fail to represent that lack of faith, set voluntary benchmarks, and cross their collective fingers that the president will demonstrate a competence that he has so far lacked.
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