WASHINGTON — It’s time for Congress to reassert its sole constitutional authority to declare war. But do the newly-empowered lawmakers have the courage?
Both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney gave TV interviews Sunday to assert their argument that the commander-in-chief has the right to continue the war against Iraq even if it is against the will of the American people and Congress.
The president is obviously playing for time. Bush is losing ground with more and more members of Congress who are resisting the escalation of what is looking like a no-win war. Bush must be finding it very lonely at the top.
Of course, it is up to the lawmakers to cut off his "troop surge" escalation by blocking funding for more troops but not the money in the pipeline to bring the troops home. The lawmakers certainly would be supporting the troops and saving a lot of lives if they did so.
However, Congress may face a fait accompli because the Pentagon has already dispatched some of the 21,500 new troops to take up the battle long before Congress has been able to act.
The reality is that most lawmakers are spooked by Bush’s dire warning that a U.S. withdrawal would be a "disaster" and would encourage terrorism. They also have fallen into the trap — so reminiscent of Vietnam — that we’re there, therefore we have to stay there.
No, we don’t.
In his Jan. 10 speech to the nation, the president also said that the consequences of U.S. "failure" in Iraq would lead to chaos and the toppling of moderate governments, with radical extremists getting their hands on oil revenues "to fund their ambitions."
Furthermore, he said, "Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons" and "our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people."
So our troops in Iraq have to keep killing and more Americans have to die to forestall Bush’s worst predictions. Some analysts believe that Bush is trying to stay the course for his remaining two years in office and then pass the blame for failure to the Iraqi government and leave the problem of an exit strategy to the Democrats.
In his speech to the nation, it was big of Bush to say, "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."
His first mistake was the disastrous decision to invade Iraq under false pretenses, then to compound the fiasco by inflicting a military occupation on the country which has led to a bloody civil war. The United Nations reported earlier this week that more than 34,000 Iraqis were killed in violence last year.
To hear Bush tell it on CBS-TV "60 minutes," he’s going to do what he wants to do in Iraq, no matter what.
"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it (sending more troops to Iraq). But I’ve made my decision and we’re going forward."
Cheney told Fox News Sunday that congressional criticism will not influence Bush’s plans and he rejected any effort to "run a war by committee."
"The president is commander-in-chief," said Cheney. "He’s the one to make these tough decisions."
I’ve got news for the vice president. The majority of the American people, according to the polls, and a growing sentiment in Congress, cannot be shrugged off as a "committee."
What’s scary is Bush’s vanity. The war cannot be reduced to his personal feelings or popularity. It has caused so much suffering and misery.
He told CBS-TV, "I’m not going to try to be popular and change (my) principles to do so." And what are those principles, pray tell? Could they be to never admit failure?
He also said: "I’m not the kind of guy who says ‘Oh gosh, I’m worried about my legacy."’
Right, that’s already been determined.
© 2007 Hearst Newspapers