This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: January 12, 2007): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
For more about the War Powers legislation:
Follow this link for a brief legislative history and bibliography.
Follow this link for an overview of cases under this legislation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
President Bush's plan for victory in Iraq, outlined in the rarified air of Washington on January 10, almost certainly will encounter great difficulties on the ground in Baghdad. Counter-insurgency victories come rarely and slowly, if they come about at all. But one key battle soon to be waged will take place far from Iraq: if Congress acts thoroughly to obstruct Bush's plan, what already was a long shot may become impossible.
Congressional Democrats have plentiful tools to make Bush's long shot sail wide of the basket. Most focus in coming days is sure to fall onto the "power of the purse." Under Article One of the U.S. Constitution, Congress could simply refuse to appropriate further funds for the war. While plenty already has been pumped into the Pentagon's pipeline by last year's Republican-led Congress, that well could dry up sooner than the end of this fiscal year in October. Indeed, de-funding the war ultimately was the basic method followed to conclude the Vietnam War. After the 1973 Paris Accords yielded not to peace but to naked communist aggression in 1975, Congress simply refused to appropriate needed aid for our South Vietnamese allies. It is not yet clear whether Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi prefers a repeat performance. Helicopters lifting desperate escapees from the Baghdad "Green Zone" certainly would have appeal to some of her supporters, but the newly minted Democratic Party majority of House and Senate members needs to be mindful of the preferences of future voters beyond that risible base.
A second method by which the Congressional Democratic Party might act would be by removing the authority under which the war has been conducted and authorized. The October 2002 legislation authorizing the Iraq war, Public Law 107-243, could be specifically repealed. That repeal would be, of course, subject to veto by President Bush. But vetoes can be over-ridden, and Republican Party enthusiasm for more war in Iraq also is cracking. A still more likely step would be for provisions in the 1973 War Powers Resolution to be meaningfully invoked. That Act of Congress may not be merely the empty toolbox presidential advisors long have regarded it to be. It is not just some sentiment once declared; actually, it also is a Public Law, Number 93-148. Enacted over Pres. Richard Nixon's veto, the War Powers legislation is among the Public Laws of the United States all presidents take an oath to uphold. At section 5.c. it states that "at any time that U.S. Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the US... without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution."
President Bush is not accustomed to a process that includes following preferences "if the Congress so directs," and thus the War Powers method likely would lead to a constitutional logjam that would require the guiding hand of the U.S. Supreme Court. Can Congress truly "so direct," or are the "Commander-in-Chief" features of the U.S. Presidency as outlined in Article Two of the U.S. Constitution sufficient for President Bush to persist? This would be a confrontation that the presidency could scarcely afford to lose.
Accordingly, by starting the process of conducting hearings on the matter of invoking the War Powers law, Speaker Pelosi and her fellow Democratic Party members of Congress might do something of enduring significance. Faced with the prospect of leaving his term not merely having lost a war, but also having lost for future presidents powers in the presidency once thought permanent, Mr. Bush might be induced to compromise.
Of course, some Democratic senators and representatives might also question the wisdom of pulling the rug out from the presidency in order to thumb noses at this president and his policies. After all, there remains the wider war on terrorism to win, as U.S. air raids on Al Qaeda in Somalia also demonstrated during this last week. A crippled presidency poorly would serve us in completing that task.
Weighing the consequences of either de-funding or de-authorizing the Iraq War might actually produce a spirit of compromise at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. In a winter like this one, strange things may just happen.
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