By PETER DeFAZIO
"Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention [U.S. Constitutional Convention] understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the constitution that no man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us"
- Abraham Lincoln.
ARTICLE I, SECTION 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to determine whether to send our young men and women into battle.
While early presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson respected this congressional prerogative, modern-day presidents have tended to latch onto the fact that the Constitution names the president "commander-in-chief" of the armed forces to initiate military action without congressional authorization.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration is signaling its intention to do an end-run around the American people, their elected representatives and the U.S. Constitution by launching an invasion of Iraq without congressional approval.
It is long-past time for Congress to reassert its constitutional authority over solemn issues of war and peace. I wrote to the president last December reminding him that Congress had only authorized a military campaign against those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Any other action engaging U.S. troops in hostility would require additional congressional approval.
I drafted an amendment to the fiscal year 2003 Department of Defense Authorization Act, along with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to reinforce Congress' constitutional authority to initiate military action. Regrettably, the House leadership refused to allow the amendment to be debated on the floor.
Most recently, I introduced a bipartisan resolution, House Resolution 109, which says the president cannot legally strike against Iraq without congressional approval and calls on Congress to debate the president's war plans for Iraq.
Students of history will remember that Colin Powell stopped short of Baghdad during the 1991 Persian Gulf War because of concerns about destabilizing the entire Middle East if Saddam Hussein was removed from power. Many of his colleagues remaining in the military still share those concerns, as evidenced by leaks from the Pentagon that support a continued policy of containment and question the administration's war rhetoric.
The administration has refused to answer a number of critical questions:
What is the urgency of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the security of the United States?
Would not a policy of enforcing no-fly zones, vigorous weapons inspections, and military sanctions be effective at containing the perceived threat as they have been for the past decade?
How does the Iraqi threat compare with the threat posed by other nations with weapons of mass destruction, including Iran, Pakistan, China, North Korea and others? Is the administration considering preemptive strikes against these nations as well?
Doesn't an invasion of Iraq make it more likely that Saddam Hussein will feel compelled to use weapons of mass destruction, or to give them to terrorist groups, in an effort to save his own hide?
If Saddam Hussein is removed from power, then what? Does the administration plan on occupying Iraq indefinitely?
Does war with Iraq increase the likelihood that nominally pro-Western regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be overthrown by Islamic radicals? What impact would such a result have on our democratic allies in the Middle East?
What potential disruptions to the U.S. economy could result from a war with Iraq? Would war lead to the disruption of oil supplies?
What would war do to the confidence of consumers and investors?
How much would the war and its aftermath cost U.S. taxpayers? How would this be paid for when the federal budget is hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit?
These are just a few of the questions that have crossed my mind over the last several weeks as I've learned about the administration's apparently advanced planning for war. The American people, and their elected representatives in Congress, must demand straight answers to these questions.
As Abraham Lincoln's quote alludes, President Bush has a legal, as well as moral, obligation to seek the support of Congress and the American public before launching a war with Iraq. Congress has a constitutional and moral obligation to ensure a debate about the wisdom of war with Iraq occurs.
Peter DeFazio of Springfield, a Democrat, represents Oregon's 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.