Unless you are a confirmed Bush hater -- and they seem to be legion these days, thanks in large part to the irresponsible rhetoric of Congressional Democrats -- it is simply irrational to believe that the president's purpose is to flout the law through this program, much less spy on ordinary Americans. We are at war, something Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri understand, even if Ted Kennedy and Pat Leahy appear not always fully to comprehend the fact. Congress has authorized the president, in his constitutional role as commander in chief, to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks" of Sept. 11, 2001, in order to prevent "any future acts of international terrorism against the United States." As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified this week, it flies in the face of reason to assume this means the president can order bullets and missiles fired at al Qaeda but cannot direct the NSA to listen in on al Qaeda phone calls or intercept their e-mails.
Opponents of the NSA program dressed up their criticisms in constitutional and legal jargon, but the battle is really over turf. All the Democrats on the committee and at least two of the Republicans (Chairman Arlen Specter and Sen. Lindsey Graham) seem as concerned about protecting Congressional prerogatives as they do the American people. They want the president to come to Capitol Hill, hat in hand, to seek permission to do what the administration argues the Constitution already permits. So far, the administration is standing firm, which is the proper course. If Congress insists on encroaching on the president's authority, it should be tested in the courts -- which have pretty consistently sided with the administration in previous challenges to his authority on similar matters.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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