March 4, 2002
Before We Bomb Baghdad.....
With our military actions waning in Afghanistan, the administration appears to be gearing up for a second phase in the Middle East. Although the Al-Queda threat has not yet been fully neutralized, political and popular support for a full-scale war against Iraq is growing. The President explicitly named Iraq as a target in his State of the Union address, and British Prime Minister Blair recently stated his backing for such an invasion.
Yet I remain convinced we should be very cautious before we send troops and bombs into Iraq. It's simple to point out that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator, but it's not so easy to demonstrate that he poses a threat to us. We should also remember that the congressional resolution passed immediately after September 11th, which I supported, authorized military force only against those directly responsible for the attacks- and there is no evidence whatsoever that Iraq played a role in those attacks. This leaves me with two serious concerns: first, the near-certainty that this coming war will be undeclared, and hence unconstitutional; and second, that such a war does not serve our best interests.
First and foremost, we must follow the Constitution and require that the President secure a congressional declaration of war before he proceeds against Iraq. Undeclared wars represent one of the greatest threats to our constitutional separation of powers over the last 50 years, beginning with our "police action" in Korea. This most sacred legislative function- the power to send our young people into harm's way- must be exercised by Congress alone, the body most directly connected to the electorate.
The undeclared wars waged by various Presidents during the last century represent a very serious usurpation of the legislative function, adding greatly to the rise of the "imperial Presidency" that we witnessed so clearly during the Clinton years. I'm always amazed that Congress is quite willing to simply give away one of its greatest powers, especially when it spends so much time otherwise trying to expand its powers by passing extra-constitutional legislation. The reason for this, I'm afraid, is Congress learned in Vietnam that wars sometimes go very badly, and few want to be on record as having voted for a war if they can avoid it. So despite all the talk in Congress of "supporting the President," nobody wants to really support him by doing the obvious and passing a declaration of war.
Constitutional questions aside, we have to ask ourselves quite simply whether it serves any national interest to invade Iraq. So often we lose sight of the true purpose of our military, which is to defend our borders against attack. Remember, Iraq has not initiated aggression against us. We, on the other hand, have bombed them, taunted them by flying military jets in their airspace, and starved them with economic sanctions- all for more than a decade. We haven't done these things out of humanitarian concern for Kuwait, we've done them because we want to protect our oil interests. Yet these actions have harmed the people of Iraq, not the Hussein regime. If anything, our policies serve to generate support for Hussein, who uses American aggression as a convenient scapegoat to deflect attention from his own oppression. Sadly, we've made him a martyr in Iraq and much of the wider Muslim world, alienating many otherwise pro-Western Iraqi moderates in the process. I question the wisdom, and the necessity, of once again traveling 6000 miles to pick a fight with a third-world Muslim nation that is simply not threatening us.
Congress should not allow any administration to take our nation to war without the consent of the people. I fear that we are about to embark on an undeclared, unconstitutional war in Iraq that is exceedingly unwise and fraught with unforeseen consequences. This war will have nothing to do with US national security or Iraqi aggression. It will, however, make us all less secure by antagonizing millions of Muslims who understand the necessity of our actions against Al-Queda, but who will object to an invasion of Iraq.