Vice President Dick Cheney has made it clear that he does not believe Congress has much to say about the war in Iraq, in particular, or about foreign policy in general. With repeated assertions that the country “cannot run a war by committee,” the man who defended the Reagan Administration’s Iran-Contra wrongdoing and counseled the first President Bush to omit consultation with Congress before launching the Gulf War of 1991 has established the current administration’s view regarding which branch of government is in charge when it comes to warmaking. “The president is the commander in chief,” growled Cheney in a recent appearance on Fox News. “He’s the one who has to make these tough decisions.”
President Bush has dutifully echoed Cheney’s line with clumsy but apparently heartfelt references to himself as “the decider.”
Were it not for the small matter of the Constitution, the Vice President and his charge might be convincing on this matter.
Unfortunately for these transitory occupants of the White House, the Constitution affords them no comfort.
The document is clear in its language: “The Congress shall have the power… To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces; To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress…”
If that makes it sound as if control over matters military was placed squarely in the hands of the House and Senate, then the founders succeeded in communicating their intent. James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution were exceptionally blunt about their hope that the the president would serve as a mere commander-in-chief, implementing the directions of the Congress with regard to the targets or military actions, the characters of those actions and their durations.