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[casi] Congress Must Resist Rush To War

Congress Must Resist the Rush to War

New York Times
October 10, 2002

WASHINGTON - A sudden appetite for war with Iraq seems to
have consumed the Bush administration and Congress. The
debate that began in the Senate last week is centered not
on the fundamental and monumental questions of whether and
why the United States should go to war with Iraq, but
rather on the mechanics of how best to wordsmith the
president's use-of-force resolution in order to give him
virtually unchecked authority to commit the nation's
military to an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.

How have we gotten to this low point in the history of
Congress? Are we too feeble to resist the demands of a
president who is determined to bend the collective will of
Congress to his will - a president who is changing the
conventional understanding of the term "self-defense"? And
why are we allowing the executive to rush our
decision-making right before an election? Congress, under
pressure from the executive branch, should not hand away
its Constitutional powers. We should not hamstring future
Congresses by casting such a shortsighted vote. We owe our
country a due deliberation.

I have listened closely to the president. I have questioned
the members of his war cabinet. I have searched for that
single piece of evidence that would convince me that the
president must have in his hands, before the month is out,
open-ended Congressional authorization to deliver an
unprovoked attack on Iraq. I remain unconvinced. The
president's case for an unprovoked attack is circumstantial
at best. Saddam Hussein is a threat, but the threat is not
so great that we must be stampeded to provide such
authority to this president just weeks before an election.

Why are we being hounded into action on a resolution that
turns over to President Bush the Congress's Constitutional
power to declare war? This resolution would authorize the
president to use the military forces of this nation
wherever, whenever and however he determines, and for as
long as he determines, if he can somehow make a connection
to Iraq. It is a blank check for the president to take
whatever action he feels "is necessary and appropriate in
order to defend the national security of the United States
against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." This broad
resolution underwrites, promotes and endorses the
unprecedented Bush doctrine of preventive war and
pre-emptive strikes - detailed in a recent publication,
"National Security Strategy of the United States" - against
any nation that the president, and the president alone,
determines to be a threat.

We are at the gravest of moments. Members of Congress must
not simply walk away from their Constitutional
responsibilities. We are the directly elected
representatives of the American people, and the American
people expect us to carry out our duty, not simply hand it
off to this or any other president. To do so would be to
fail the people we represent and to fall woefully short of
our sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution.

We may not always be able to avoid war, particularly if it
is thrust upon us, but Congress must not attempt to give
away the authority to determine when war is to be declared.
We must not allow any president to unleash the dogs of war
at his own discretion and for an unlimited period of time.

Yet that is what we are being asked to do. The judgment of
history will not be kind to us if we take this step.

Members of Congress should take time out and go home to
listen to their constituents. We must not yield to this
absurd pressure to act now, 27 days before an election that
will determine the entire membership of the House of
Representatives and that of a third of the Senate. Congress
should take the time to hear from the American people, to
answer their remaining questions and to put the frenzy of
ballot-box politics behind us before we vote. We should
hear them well, because while it is Congress that casts the
vote, it is the American people who will pay for a war with
the lives of their sons and daughters.

Robert C. Byrd is a Democratic senator for West Virginia.

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