Is Bush really the "decision maker" regarding war?
In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address, Bush declared: "Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make." On December 18, 2005, he said: "As your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq." And on January 26 of this year, answering a question about why he thinks it's okay to go ahead with his new plan for Iraq without congressional approval, the president asserted: "I'm the decision maker." That plan calls for sending an additional 21,500 American soldiers to Iraq, and President Bush has already begun implementing it despite the growing public opposition to the war and the growing resistance in Congress, including within his own party.
Should a single person possess the awesome power to make war? And after going to war to accomplish one mission--e.g., getting rid of weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration claimed Saddam Hussein had--should a single person possess the power to redefine the original mission to include another objective--e.g., sustaining a regime with our blood and treasure?
Moreover, should a single person, even if he is president, be allowed to extend the conflict by attacking other nations--e.g. Iran--if he decides that that is in the best interests of the United States?
Well, a single person does not possess this power, despite Bush's claims to the contrary. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the powers "to declare war"; "to raise and support armies"; "to provide and maintain a navy"; and "to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."
The congressional power to "declare war" is tantamount to the power to "make war." In fact, the Constitutional Convention originally proposed giving Congress the power to "make war," but changed the phrase to "declare war" so the president would be able to repel a sudden attack without violating the Constitution. We know this from the copious notes James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, kept at the convention. It was very clear from the discussion that the intent was to give the war power to Congress, not the president.
In establishing our republic, the Founding Fathers wanted a president, not a king. As Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist Papers (No. 69): "The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first general and admiral ... while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies--all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature."
Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated April 2, 1798, described clearly and concisely which branch of government was given the war power and why: "The constitution supposes, what the History of all governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has, accordingly, with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature."
By claiming himself the "decision maker" regarding the question of war, the president is not only acting contrary to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, he is also effectively claiming that he is a king with unrestrained power as opposed to a president with limited power in a constitutional republic. He of course is not the first president to usurp the congressional war power. But the fact that he is not the first does not make his usurpation any less wrong or dangerous.
Congress must reassert its proper authority regarding the question of war--and the American people must demand that Congress do so. Unless that happens, America will continue down the path of global empire, and in the process we will lose our Constitution and cherished freedoms.
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|Title Annotation:||THE LAST WORD|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Feb 19, 2007|
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