Peacekeepers for the Gulf

By Savoy, Paul | The Nation, November 26, 1990 | Go to article overview

Peacekeepers for the Gulf


Savoy, Paul, The Nation


Peacekeepers For the Gulf

During the first week of October the House and Senate approved similar versions of a resolution that purports to assert Congressional authority over warmaking power but in reality serves no useful purpose other than self-promotion. The Senate resolution praises President Bush for his leadership in securing United Nations action in the Persian Gulf, approves his deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia and "supports continued action by the President . . . to deter Iraqi aggression and to protect American lives and vital interests in the region." Although the resolution requires that any military action by the President must be undertaken "in accordance with the decisions of the United Nations Security Council and in accordance with United States constitutional and statutory processes," the failure to impose any specific limits on the use of armed force leaves a legal loophole large enough to drive the entire 24th Mechanized Division through.

Since the enactment of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 federal courts have made it clear that in order to prevent the President from pre-empting Congress's constitutional prerogative of declaring war, lawmakers must act in one of two ways: They must either take affirmative steps to start the clock running on the War Powers Resolution, which requires the President to withdraw troops within sixty days after hostilities have been declared "imminent," or Congress must enact legislation imposing specific restraints on future military action. Congress has done neither.

Representative Dante Fascell, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and George Mitchell, the Senate majority leader and co-sponsor of the senate resolution, earnestly assured colleagues that this latest measure does not give the President a blank check. However sincere that claim may be, knowledgeable observers must wonder whether Congress's legal advisers have been relying on Cliffs Notes for constitutional law. The reality is that the power to commit the country to war in the Middle East has been passed from Congress to the President. Characterizing the resolution as little more than "a press release for the Senate," Mark Hatfield, one of only three senators who voted against the measure, said, "If we choose not to take any action and to continue to dodge our responsibility, then for God's sake, let us be honest. . . . We are the embodiment of hypocrisy."

It is one of the ironies of the post-cold war period that as U.S. lawmakers once again surrender power to the President, the Soviet legislature has manifested a new democratic assertiveness in foreign policy. In response to criticism from members of the Supreme Soviet that the Kremlin has not consulted the legislative branch in deciding whether to use armed force in the Persian Gulf, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze stated in mid-October, "Any use of Soviet troops outside the country [even as part of a U.N. force] demands a decision of the Soviet Parliament." The same week, Secretary of State James Baker told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who expressed concern that the United States may go to war against Iraq while Congress is in recess until mid-January, that the Administration would "consult" with the Congressional leadership if a decision to take military action is made, but that the executive branch does not feel obligated to obtain advance Congressional authorization, which would deprive U.S. forces of the ability to launch a surprise attack on Iraq.

Two erroneous assumptions underlie the Administration's gulf policy. The first is that the American people would suport a war in the gulf. Opinion polls indicate they would not. According to a survey conducted by Americans Talk Security, a bipartisan group of polling firms, nine out of ten Ameicans are not ready for the United States to start a war, and two-thirds of those surveyed said we should wait indefinitely for sanctions to work. …

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