Of Imperial Presidents and Congressional Cowards

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Now that Congress is back from spring break and looking ahead to Memorial Day, July 4th, the August recess and adjournment early in October for elections, perhaps it can take up this question.

Does President Bush have, or not have, the authority to take us to war with Iran? Because Bush and the War Party are surely behaving as though this were an executive decision alone.

No sooner had President Ahmadinejad declared that his country had enriched a speck of uranium than the war drums began again.

Bush has said of Iran that even “a process which would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.” John McCain has said too many times to count, “The military option is on the table.” The 2006 National Security Strategy re-endorses preventive war and elevates Iran to the No. 1 threat to the United States.

This is not enough for The Weekly Standard, which equates our situation with that of France in 1936, when Paris sat immobile while Hitler marched three lightly armed battalions back into the German Rhineland, which had been demilitarized by the Versailles Treaty.

“To Bomb or Not to Bomb, That Is the Iran Question,” is the title of an extended piece in the Standard, whose editorial calls for “urgent operational planning for bombing strikes.” As that would likely ignite Shia and Revolutionary Guard terror attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, the Standard wants Bush to send more troops.

In an editorial “Iran Now,” National Review is already into target acquisition. It calls for plans for a massive bombing campaign “coupled with an aggressive and persistent efforts to topple the regime from within.” Ideally, U.S. bombs “should hit not just the nuclear facilities, but also the symbols of state oppression: the intelligence ministry, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard, the guard towers of the notorious Evin Prison.”

In The Washington Post, Mark Helprin, who is identified as having “served in the Israeli army and air force,” says “the obvious option is an aerial campaign to divest Iran of its nuclear potential: i.e., clear the Persian Gulf of Iranian naval forces, scrub anti-ship missiles from the shore and lay open antiaircraft-free corridors to each target. … Were the targets effectively hidden or buried, Iran could be shut down, coerced and perhaps revolutionized by the simple and rapid destruction of its oil production and transport.”

Since Muslims may not like what we are up to, Helprin cautions, we should prepare “for a land route from the Mediterranean across Israel and Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates,” and, presumably, from there the final push on to Tehran.

In all this hawk talk, something is missing. We are not told how many innocent Iranians we will have to kill as we go about smashing their nuclear program and defenses. Nor are we told how many more soldiers we will need for the neocons’ new war, nor how long they will have to fight, nor how many more wings we should plan for at Walter Reed, nor when it will be over — if ever.

Moreover, where does Bush get the authority to launch a war on a nation that has not attacked us? As few believe Iran is close to a nuclear weapon, while four neighbors — Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel, not to mention the United States — already have the bomb, what is America’s justification for war?

If we sat by while Stalin got the bomb, and Mao got the bomb, and Kim Jong-Il got the bomb, why is an Iranian bomb a threat to the United States, which possesses thousands?

There is a reason the Founding Fathers separated the power to conduct war from the power to declare it. The reason is just such a ruler as George W. Bush, a man possessed of an ideology and sense of mission that are not necessarily coterminous with what is best for his country. Under our Constitution, it is Congress, not the president, who decides on war.

Many Democrats now concede they failed the nation when they took Bush at his word that Iraq was an intolerable threat that could be dealt with only by an invasion. Now, Bush and the War Party are telling us the same thing about Iran. And the Congress is conducting itself in the same contemptible and cowardly way.

It is time for Congress to tell President Bush directly that he has no authority to go to war on Iran and to launch such a war would be an impeachable offense. Or, if they so conclude, Congress should share full responsibility by granting him that authority after it has held hearings and told the people why we have no other choice than another Mideast war, with a nation four times as large as Iraq.

If Congress lacks the courage to do its constitutional duty, it should stop whining about imperial presidents. Because, like the Roman Senate of Caesar’s time, it will have invited them and it will deserve them.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.

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