Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A pet peeve about that #%^&@ war resolution

One of my pet peeves in Iraq War reporting is the fact that so many journalists and Big Pundits made all sorts of pronouncements and judgments about the October 2002 Congressional war resolution on Iraq, apparently without ever bothering to actually look at the thing. For those who might be so inclined, it's at Public Law 107-243, 10/16/02, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

The latest example is from the Rolling Stone national politics blog,
With a Dick Like This, Who Needs Cheney by Tim Dickinson. The title reflects the tone of the article, which reflects the hip-cynical tone that has always bugged me about Rolling Stone, especially when it completely substitutes for substance.

To paraphrase one of the corniest country songs of all time, Rolling Stone was snarky when snarky wasn't cool.

Dickinson harshes on then-Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt for his role in passing the resolution:

Senators Joe Biden and Dick Lugar had, at the time in 2002, a more modest, bi-partisan war authorization bill that would have checked the president’s power, at least a little, requiring him to report back to Congress before firing any Tomahawks at Baghdad.

The Biden/Lugar bill had the votes to pass, on a bipartisan basis. But then Dick Gephardt, in an attempt to appear presidential in a runup to his own White House bid, cut a secret deal with Bush … and suddenly appears in a Rose Garden ceremony giving the president a war bill so expansive in its scope that it allows The Decider to unilaterally wage preemptive war against not only Iraq but any perceived threat.
I posted the following as a comment there, although I'm cleaning up a typo here:

Good grief, what war resolution are you reading? The 2002 war resolution was a bad idea, and Biden and Gephardt and all the other Democrats who voted for it were as wrong as the Republicans who supported it. A solid majority of Democrats in the House opposed it, the Senate Dems split evenly. Virtually every Republican member of Congress supported it.

But the resolution itself required two very specific conditions be met before Bush could invade Iraq. One was to show that there was no further option to deal with Iraq's (non-existent) "weapons of mass destruction". The other was that a definite connection be established betwee Saddam's regime and Al Qaida (also non-existent), including specifically to the 9/11 attacks.

Despite the way the resolution has been used in partisan polemics, Bush actually violated that resolution when he invaded Iraq four years ago. John Dean - who has some experience in the area of Presidential misconduct - discusses this point at some length in his book Worse Than Watergate.

The vote was a bad idea because it helped Bush validate his invasion politically. But it did not authorize the actual decision that Bush made when he invaded. And it certainly did not authorize preventive invasions of Iran or any other country.
Even Gary Kamiya falls into this mistake in (ironically) an article about Iraq: Why the media failed Salon 04/10/07, when he writes, "Of course, the media was not alone in its collapse. Congress rolled over and gave Bush authorization to go to war."

At least that statement is technically correct. Congress did authorize a war with Iraq, and their passing that resolution at that time was one of the worst mistakes in the history of that institution. But Congress authorized a war under specific conditions which were not met. In other words, Congress did not authorize this war. And it's too bad that, among their many other failings, our "press corps" has let the impeachable offense committed when Bush violated that resolution by launching this war against Iraq get airbrushed out of existence.

I've been grumping about this for the last two and a half years, starting with
Iraq War: What did Congress really authorize? 08/16/04. That post quoted from Dean's 2004 Worse Than Watergate book:

Bush, in essence, gave Congress only one purported fact to meet the requirement of making a congressional determination [i.e., certifying to Congress that the conditions of the war resolution were met]. He cited the information offered by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations. [Powell has since publicly acknowledged that his presentation contained inaccurate information, which damaged his reputation badly.] Bush merely reminded Congress that Powell's report "revealed a terrorist training area in northeastern Iraq with ties to Iraqi intelligence and activities of [al Qaeda] affiliates in Baghdad." Bush added that "public reports indicate that Iraq is currently harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close [al Qaeda] associate," and that in the past Iraq had "provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al Qaeda]." He offered no governmental confirmation of this "public report."

... If there is a precedent for Bush's slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause (which he provided to Congress as suggested introductory language) and a dubious public report (which fails to address the substance of the conditions for war set by Congress), I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.
See also an article by Dean in Salon 07/03/03, also titlled "Worse Than Watergate". This was not quite four months into the Iraq War, before the search for Iraqi WMDs had become such a snipe hunt that only Republican fantasists (or those foolish enough to take their word for it) could still believe in those phantom WMDs. Dean wrote:

President George W. Bush has got a very serious problem. Before asking Congress for a Joint Resolution authorizing the use of American military forces in Iraq, he made a number of unequivocal statements about the reason the United States needed to pursue the most radical actions any nation can undertake - acts of war against another nation.

Now it is clear that many of his statements appear to be false. In the past, Bush's White House has been very good at sweeping ugly issues like this under the carpet, and out of sight. But it is not clear that they will be able to make the question of what happened to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) go away - unless, perhaps, they start another war.
I also addressed the war resolution issue in The WMD fraud: Is it too much to ask the "press corps" to focus? 11/20/05 (includes material from the war resolution) and Iraq War: Incomprehensible? 08/17/06.

Since the 2002 resolution did not authorize the decision Cheney and Bush made to invade Iraq in 2003, the following is academic. But treaty commitments are just as much basic law for the US as the Constitution itself. And because the US is bound by international law that makes preventive war a crime, Congress has no authority to authorize such a war, nor the President to initiate one. I've addressed this particular point a number of times, including
"Preventive" war vs. "Preemptive" 04/22/04, and Wars "preemptive" and "preventive" 08/16/04.

As a final comment, I should say that, the law being the law and lawyers being lawyers, it's always possible to make other readings of the 2002 war resolution. But I find Dean's argument convincing. At the very minimum, it would be nice to see our Big Pundits acknowledge that there is good reason to think that a straightforward reading of the resolution would not have authorized the war Cheney and Bush actually launched. What Dickinson does in that blog post is back-handedly make a Republican argument, which is that war resolution not only authorized the invasion of Iraq but any other war Bush cares to start.

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