Congress Must Resist the Rush to War
By ROBERT C. BYRD
ASHINGTON — A sudden appetite for war with Iraq seems to have consumed the Bush administration and Congress. The debate that began in the Senate last week is centered not on the fundamental and monumental questions of whether and why the United States should go to war with Iraq, but rather on the mechanics of how best to wordsmith the president's use-of-force resolution in order to give him virtually unchecked authority to commit the nation's military to an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.
How have we gotten to this low point in the history of Congress? Are we too feeble to resist the demands of a president who is determined to bend the collective will of Congress to his will — a president who is changing the conventional understanding of the term "self-defense"? And why are we allowing the executive to rush our decision-making right before an election? Congress, under pressure from the executive branch, should not hand away its Constitutional powers. We should not hamstring future Congresses by casting such a shortsighted vote. We owe our country a due deliberation.
I have listened closely to the president. I have questioned the members of his war cabinet. I have searched for that single piece of evidence that would convince me that the president must have in his hands, before the month is out, open-ended Congressional authorization to deliver an unprovoked attack on Iraq. I remain unconvinced. The president's case for an unprovoked attack is circumstantial at best. Saddam Hussein is a threat, but the threat is not so great that we must be stampeded to provide such authority to this president just weeks before an election.
Why are we being hounded into action on a resolution that turns over to President Bush the Congress's Constitutional power to declare war? This resolution would authorize the president to use the military forces of this nation wherever, whenever and however he determines, and for as long as he determines, if he can somehow make a connection to Iraq. It is a blank check for the president to take whatever action he feels "is necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." This broad resolution underwrites, promotes and endorses the unprecedented Bush doctrine of preventive war and pre-emptive strikes — detailed in a recent publication, "National Security Strategy of the United States" — against any nation that the president, and the president alone, determines to be a threat.
We are at the gravest of moments. Members of Congress must not simply walk away from their Constitutional responsibilities. We are the directly elected representatives of the American people, and the American people expect us to carry out our duty, not simply hand it off to this or any other president. To do so would be to fail the people we represent and to fall woefully short of our sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution.
We may not always be able to avoid war, particularly if it is thrust upon us, but Congress must not attempt to give away the authority to determine when war is to be declared. We must not allow any president to unleash the dogs of war at his own discretion and for an unlimited period of time.
Yet that is what we are being asked to do. The judgment of history will not be kind to us if we take this step.
Members of Congress should take time out and go home to listen to their constituents. We must not yield to this absurd pressure to act now, 27 days before an election that will determine the entire membership of the House of Representatives and that of a third of the Senate. Congress should take the time to hear from the American people, to answer their remaining questions and to put the frenzy of ballot-box politics behind us before we vote. We should hear them well, because while it is Congress that casts the vote, it is the American people who will pay for a war with the lives of their sons and daughters.
Robert C. Byrd is a Democratic senator for West Virginia.