During the 2004 election, George W. Bush famously proclaimed that he didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to defend America. Does that mean he can attack Iran without having to ask Congress? A new Congressional resolution being drafted by Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, can be a vehicle to remind Bush that he can’t.
Bush is calling news reports of plans to attack Iran “wild speculation” and declaring that the United States is on a “diplomatic” track. But asked this week if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, he repeated that “all options are on the table.”
The President is acting as if the decisions that may get us into another war are his to make and his alone. So the Iran crisis poses not only questions of military feasibility and political wisdom but of Constitutional usurpation.
Bush’s top officials openly assert that he can do anything he wants–including attacking another country–on his authority as Commander in Chief.
Last October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whether the President would circumvent Congressional authorization if the White House chose military action against Iran or Syria. She answered, “I will not say anything that constrains his authority as Commander in Chief.”
When pressed by Senator Paul Sarbanes about whether the Administration can exercise a military option without an authorization from Congress, Rice replied, “The President never takes any option off the table, and he shouldn’t.”
The founders of the American Republic were deeply concerned that the President’s power to make war might become the vehicle for tyranny. So they crafted a Constitution that included checks and balances on presidential power, among them an independent Congress and judiciary, an executive power subject to laws written by Congress and interpreted by the courts, and an executive power to repel attacks but not to declare or finance war.
But the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, as laid out in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States and reiterated in 2006, claims for the President the power to attack other countries–like Iran–simply because he asserts they pose a threat. It thereby removes the decision of war and peace from Congress and gives it the President. It is, as Senator Robert Byrd put it, “unconstitutional on its face.”
DeFazio is now preparing a resolution underscoring the fact that the President cannot initiate military action against Iran without Congressional authorization. He is seeking support from other House members.
“The imperial powers claimed by this Administration are breathtaking in their scope. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues were willing to cede our constitutional authorities to the President prior to the war in Iraq. We’ve seen how that turned out,” DeFazio told The Nation. “Congress can’t make the same mistake with respect to Iran. Yet the constant drumbeat we’re hearing out of the Administration, in the press, from think tanks, etc., on Iran eerily echoes what we heard about Iraq.