Blogs > Liberty and Power > CONGRESSIONAL COWARDICE

Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


David Broder had an interesting column in Sunday's Washington Post (did I really just type that?). In it, he explores who should get the blame for the post-9/11 growth of the Imperial Presidency. Through much of the 20th century, from Truman's"police action" in Korea, through Bill Clinton's"bimbo bombings," executive aggrandizement was the main cause. Presidential power in foreign policy grew as a result of unilateral action by the president, sometimes--as in the case of the 1999 Kosovo war--in defiance of Congress's refusal to authorize military action.

Broder cites constitutional scholar Louis Fisher, who says that over the last 2+ years, much of the blame for our current foreign policy dilemma can be placed on the legislative branch. He's right. Since 9/11, Congress has shirked its constitutional power over war and peace in a disgraceful orgy of buck-passing and ass-covering. When it comes to the war power, Congress has said to the president, in essence,"hey, it's your call!"

The use-of-force resolution Congress passed immediately after September 11, 2001, is a blanket delegation of authority to the president, authorizing him to make war on ''those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons'' [emphasis added]. By its plain terms, the resolution leaves it to the president to decide when the evidence that a target nation has cooperated with al-Qaeda justifies war. It's an invitation to abuse, and it's amazing that it hasn't been abused thus far, to justify war with other nations on the neocon hit list.

Similarly, after voting for the Iraq war resolution, which gave the president all the authority he needed to attack, prominent members of Congress insisted that they hadn't really voted to use force. To this day, John Kerry justifies his vote for the Iraq war by saying he wanted to empower the president to end the impasse peacefully--even though the resolution authorized military action and would be used by the president as the equivalent of a declaration of war. Luckily, Kerry seems to be paying a political price for his gutlessness.

There's been executive aggrandizement aplenty in the last two years--this is, after all, a president who claims the right to summarily declare American citizens"enemy combatants" and lock them up forever. But as Fisher notes, much of our current predicament can be blamed on congressional cowardice and dereliction of duty.

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