Sen. Joe Biden could not have been more wrong when he claimed on Meet the Press on Sunday that Congress does not have the constitutional power to block an escalation of the war in Iraq.
An insightful new report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) gives numerous examples of how past Congresses have acted to change, curtail or end US military deployments–by either refusing to fund them, capping the number of troops available or specifying that a deployment end by a date certain.
“While the president is commander-in-chief,” CAP experts Larry Korb and Brian Katulis write, “Congress retains the power (with the consent of the president) to establish the laws by which the United States conducts foreign policy.”
Here are just a few of the many relevant examples detailed in the CAP report:
December 1970. P.L. 91-652 – Supplemental Foreign Assistance Law. The Church-Cooper amendment prohibited the use of any funds for the introduction of U.S. troops to Cambodia or provide military advisors to Cambodian forces.
June 1973. P.L. 93-50 – Supplemental Foreign Assistance, “None of the Funds herein appropriated under this act may be expended to support directly or indirectly combat activities in or over Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam by United States forces, and after August 15, 1974, no other funds heretofore appropriated under any other act may be expended for such purposes.”
December 1974. P.L. 93-559 – Foreign Assistance Act of 1974. The Congress established a personnel ceiling of 4000 Americans in Vietnam within six months of enactment and 3000 Americans within one year.
December 1982. P.L. 98-215 – Defense Appropriations Act. In what became known as the Boland Amendment, Congress prohibited covert military assistance for Nicaragua.
June 1983. P.L. 98-43 – The Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act of 1983. The Congress required the president to return to seek statutory authorization if he sought to expand the size of the U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.
Moreover, throughout the 1990s, both Democrats and Republicans unsuccessfully tried to limit or prohibit US military assistance and operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Rational presidents from both parties consulted with and listened to the Congress. President Gerald Ford was particularly aware of Congress’s influence in the realm of national security. In April 1975, after Congress had forced an end to combat operations in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland tried to convince Ford to send American troops back in. But according to his autobiography, Ford told Westmoreland no. If he defied the Congress, Ford said, he’d be impeached.