George Will

All this refutes Rudy Giuliani's recent suggestion that the president might have "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if funding were cut off. Besides, American history is replete with examples of Congress restraining executive warmaking. (See "Congress at War," a book by Charles A. Stevenson.) Congress has forbidden:

Sending draftees outside this hemisphere (1940-41); introduction of combat troops into Laos or Thailand (1969); reintroduction of troops into Cambodia (1970); combat operations in Southeast Asia (1973); military operations in Angola (1976); use of force in Lebanon other than for self-defense (1983); military activities in Nicaragua (1980s). In 1993 and 1994, Congress mandated the withdrawal of troops from Somalia, and forbade military actions in Rwanda.

When Congress authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those complicit in 9/11, Congress refused to adopt administration language authorizing force "to deter and pre-empt any future" terrorism or aggression. The wonder is that the administration bothered to seek this language.

The administration's "presidentialists" -- including the president -- believe presidents are constitutionally emancipated from all restraints regarding core executive functions, particularly those concerning defense and waging war. Clearly they think the rejected language would have added nothing to the president's inherent powers.

Congress' powers were most dramatically abandoned and ignored regarding Korea. Although President Truman came from a Congress controlled by his party and friends, he never sought congressional authorization to send troops into massive and sustained conflict. Instead, he asserted broad authority to "execute" treaties such as the U.N. Charter.

For today's Democrats, resistance to unilateral presidential warmaking reflects not principled constitutionalism but petulance about the current president. Democrats were supine when President Clinton launched a sustained air war against Serbia without congressional authorization. Instead, he cited NATO's authorization -- as though that were an adequate substitute for the collective judgment that the Constitution mandates. Republicans, supposed defenders of limited government, actually are enablers of an unlimited presidency. Their belief in strict construction of the Constitution evaporates and they become, in behavior if not in thought, adherents of the woolly idea of a "living Constitution." They endorse, by their passivity, the idea that new threats justify ignoring the Framers' text and logic about shared responsibility for warmaking.

Unless and until Congress stops prattling about presidential "usurpation" of power and asserts its own, it will remain derelict regarding its duty of mutual participation in warmaking. And it will merit its current marginalization.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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