The Rush to War. (Comment)

By Falk, Richard | The Nation, August 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Rush to War. (Comment)


Falk, Richard, The Nation


The American Constitution at the very beginning of the Republic sought above all to guard the country against reckless, ill-considered recourse to war. It required a declaration of war by the legislative branch, and gave Congress the power over appropriations even during wartime. Such caution existed before the great effort of the twentieth century to erect stronger barriers to war by way of international law and public morality, and to make this resistance to war the central feature of the United Nations charter. Consistent with this undertaking, German and Japanese leaders who engaged in aggressive war were punished after World War II as war criminals. The most prominent Americans at the time declared their support for such a framework of restraint as applicable in the future to all states, not just to the losers in a war. We all realize that the effort to avoid war has been far from successful, but it remains a goal widely shared by the peoples of the world and still endorsed by every government on the planet.

And yet, here we are, poised on the slippery precipice of a pre-emptive war, without even the benefit of meaningful public debate. The constitutional crisis is so deep that it is not even noticed. The unilateralism of the Bush White House is an affront to the rest of the world, which is unanimously opposed to such an action. The Democratic Party, even in its role as loyal opposition, should be doing its utmost to raise the difficult questions. Instead, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the chairmanship of Democratic Senator Biden, organized two days of hearings, notable for the absence of critical voices. Such hearings are worse than nothing, creating a forum for advocates of war, fostering the illusion that no sensible dissent exists and thus serving mainly to raise the war fever a degree or two. How different might the impact of such hearings be if respected and informed critics of a pre-emptive war, such as Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, both former UN coordinators of humanitarian assistance to Iraq who resigned in protest a few years back, were given the opportunity to appear before the senators. The media, too, have failed miserably in presenting to the American people the downside of war with Iraq. And the citizenry has been content to follow the White House on the warpath without demanding to know why the lives of young Americans should be put at risk, much less why the United States should go to war against a distant foreign country that has never attacked us and whose people have endured the most punishing sanctions in all of history for more than a decade.

This is not just a procedural demand that we respect the Constitution as we decide upon recourse to war--the most serious decision any society can make, not only for itself but for its adversary. …

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