Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Can Congress Block the Troop "Surge" in Iraq?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Can Congress Block the Troop "Surge" in Iraq?

Article excerpt

Can Congress block President Bush's plan to "surge" U.S. combat troops in Iraq? The short answer: a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses will prevail. Even if the vote falls short, the impact could be the same.

One thing is sure: the Constitution gives the Congress not only the right but the duty to exert its influence on all policy decisions, even on a build-up of U.S. forces in Iraq. Although the president is commander-in-chief, he must share war powers with the Congress.

By using its power of the purse, Congress can control particular initiatives-for example, terminate or moderate the "surge." It can accomplish this by carefully drafting military authorizations and appropriations that impose precise restrictions on executive action. They can be drafted so they protect the well-being of U.S. forces stationed in Iraq. During my 22 years in Congress, several of my colleagues joined me in utilizing this restrictive device, although not on war measures.

Especially at this time of peril in Iraq, Congress should maintain a close rein on the character and extent of all military expenditures. It should start by rejecting the president's request for a lump-sum $100 billion for 2007 war costs and substitute periodic appropriations of lesser amounts, say $20 billion each, to be considered in sequence while Congress maintains a close oversight on current spending.

Every administration is eager for exclusive control of war-making, but the Constitution clearly gives shared power to Congress. In one of several examples, it provides that only Congress can declare war. While a Member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln properly construed this provision to be the equivalent of making war, not just declaring it. …

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