Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Senators Assert Right to Block Bush on Iraq

Published: January 30, 2007
The New York Times

The Senate Judiciary Committee began laying the constitutional groundwork today for an effort to block President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq and put new limits on the conduct of the war there, perhaps forcing a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

Democrats on the committee were joined by Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led the panel for the last two years, in asserting that Mr. Bush cannot simply ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

“I would respectfully suggest to the President that he is not the sole decider,” Mr. Specter said. “The decider is a joint and shared responsibility.”

Senator Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who acted as chairman for the hearing, said he would soon introduce a resolution that would seek to end all financing for the deployment of American military forces in Iraq after six months, other than a limited number working on counterterrorism operations or training the Iraqi army and police. In effect, it would call for all other American forces to be withdrawn by the six-month deadline.

“Since the President is adamant about pursuing his failed policy in Iraq, Congress has a duty to stand up and prevent him,” Mr. Feingold said.

Mr. Feingold’s bill would go far beyond a nonbinding resolution passed by the Foreign Relations Committee last week, which expressed opposition to the troop increase, as well as proposals to deny funds only for the president’s troop-increase plan, leaving forces already in Iraq unaffected.

Many Democrats have shied away from a direct attempt to thwart the president’s strategy, and some Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have all but dared the war’s opponents to try cutting off financing, a move they believe would be seen as undermining the nation’s troops.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, said that Congress must “consider not only our policy objectives, but what message we send by our actions.”

Mr. Hatch was repeatedly interrupted by a woman in the audience, who said that her son was a marine due to return soon to Iraq for his third tour of duty there. Mr. Bush’s plan calls for 4,000 additional marines to be deployed to Anbar province. “He can’t go back,” she said.

Mr. Hatch expressed sympathy, but went on to say that “some who say they support our troops turn around and talk about defunding them.

“The message to our troops is that we no longer support them,” he said.

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, countered by citing news articles that said some of the new troops being sent to Iraq are going without adequate training or equipment. “Now who is standing behind the troops?” he asked.

Mr. Durbin suggested that Congress revisit the resolution it passed in 2002 authorizing the use of force in Iraq, since the prime reasons cited in it — the threats posed by Saddam Hussein and by weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was thought to possess — were no longer factors.

“By what authority do we continue this war?” he said.

Mr. Specter read the results of a survey of service members conducted by The Military Times, which found that only 35 percent of respondents approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war. The senator suggested that in that light, the military might be “appreciative of questions being raised by Congress.”

Mr. Feingold insisted that his resolution would “not hurt our troops in any way” because they would all continue to be paid, supplied, equipped and trained as usual — just not in Iraq.

The panel heard from legal experts, who cited constitutional debates over conflicts ranging from the “quasi-war” with Napoleon in 1798 to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Somalia in recent years. No war seemed to hang more heavily over the hearing than Vietnam, where Congress brought American involvement to a close by cutting off financing.

Prof. Robert Turner of the University of Virginia suggested that Congress had made itself responsible for the deaths of the 1.7 million Cambodians estimated to have been slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge, by denying funds for President Nixon to wage war inside Cambodia. Similarly, he said Congress bore responsibility for the deaths of 241 marines killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon in 1983 because it raised the question of forcing a withdrawal there.

Other experts testifying at the hearing said that Congress had the power not only to declare war, but to make major strategic and policy decisions about its conduct. Louis Fisher, a specialist in constitutional law for the Library of Congress, said, “I don’t know of any ground for a belief that the president has any more special expertise in whether to continue a war than do the members of Congress.”

He said that the title of “commander in chief” was meant by the framers to emphasize unity of command and civilian control over the military. “The same duty commanders have to the president, the president has to the elected representatives.”

Walter Dellinger, once a top Justice Department official under President Clinton and now a professor of law at Duke University, said that “Congress does not have an all or nothing choice,” and can “validly limit the presidential use of force.”

An example of unconstitutional Congressional interference, he said, would be an effort to force the president to choose certain generals.

But a resolution to restrict future financing for deployment in certain places would be “fully within Congress’s powers,” he said.