Friday, March 02, 2007

Harry Reid Needs to Brush Up on the Law

Harry Reid supports an effort to enact a law forbidding the President from attacking Iran with explicit authorization from Congress:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said he likely would support legislation barring a U.S. attack on Iran unless Congress explicitly gave President George W. Bush the green light to do so.

The Nevada Democrat was responding to reporters' questions about an amendment to an upcoming war-funding bill, which could come to the Senate floor later this month. The amendment is being drafted by Sen. James Webb, the Virginia Democrat who won his seat in November largely on a vow to work to end the war in Iraq.

"I would be very, very confident, I have not read this (amendment), but I'm confident, in real generality ... that I can support him," Reid told reporters.

Webb's amendment would prohibit Bush from spending any money on a "unilateral military action in Iran without the express consent of the Congress," the Virginia senator told reporters on Wednesday. He said there would be some exceptions, but did not detail them.

Maybe he'll support legislation to take away the President's veto power, too. That's another power of the President enshrined in the Constitution, which cannot be taken away without a constitutional amendment.

There is a lengthy discussion prepared by the Department of Justice in 2001 on the President's authority to use military force - with and without the prior approval of Congress. It treats at some length a wealth of topics, including the good reasons that the President should not be limited in the use of his authority, and the clear intent of the framers in drawing a distinction between the power to declare war and the power to make war - vested in the Commander in Chief.

If you're interested, I encourage you to read the whole thing. I'll pull out one section however, that explains how President Clinton used his authority:

Major recent deployments have also taken place in Central America and in the Persian Gulf. In 1994, President Clinton ordered some 20,000 United States troops to be deployed into Haiti, again without prior statutory authorization from Congress, in reliance solely upon his Article II authority. See Deployment of United States Armed Forces into Haiti, supra. On August 8, 1990, in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the consequent threat to Saudi Arabia, President Bush ordered the deployment of substantial forces into Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield. The forces were equipped for combat and included two squadrons of F-15 aircraft and a brigade of the 82d Airborne Division; the deployment eventually grew to several hundred thousand. The President informed Congress that he had taken these actions "pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct our foreign relations and as Commander in Chief..."

Several recent precedents stand out as particularly relevant to the situation at hand, where the conflict is with terrorists. The first and most relevant precedent is also the most recent: the military actions that President William J. Clinton ordered on August 20, 1998, against terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. The second is the strike on Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters that President Clinton ordered on June 26, 1993. The third is President Ronald Reagan's action on April 14, 1986, ordering United States armed forces to attack selected targets at Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya.

(A) On August 20, 1998, President Clinton ordered the Armed Forces to strike at terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan "because of the threat they present to our national security." Remarks in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Military Action Against Terrorist Sites in Afghanistan and Sudan, 2 Pub. Papers of William J. Clinton 1460 (1998). The President stated that the purpose of the operation was "to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin Ladin, perhaps the preeminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today..."

Furthermore, in explaining why military action was necessary, the President noted that "law enforcement and diplomatic tools" to combat terrorism had proved insufficient, and that "when our very national security is challenged . . . we must take extraordinary steps to protect the safety of our citizens." Id. at 1461. Finally, the President made plain that the action of the two targeted countries in harboring terrorists justified the use of military force on their territory: "The United States does not take this action lightly. Afghanistan and Sudan have been warned for years to stop harboring and supporting these terrorist groups. But countries that persistently host terrorists have no right to be safe havens." Id.

Of course, the War Powers Act - which requires the President to inform the Congress and seek authorization after having already used the military - implicitly acknowledges at a bare minimum the de facto power of the President to engage in hostilities without prior approval by Congress.

This is just another example of the Congressional Democrats trying to find a way to hamper the President, other than actually doing what the Constitution empowers them to do: restrict or withdraw funding.

No comments: