In his recent defense of the Iraq War, including his televised address Sunday night, President Bush has exemplified the quality Winston Churchill made the first moral of his history of World War II: "In war, resolution."
But Republicans would do well to consider how their president and our country might be doing today had Bush not adhered three years ago to an important constitutional principle: Before war, get a congressional resolution.
Back in 2002, the White House Counsel's Office advised President Bush he could invade Iraq without authorization from Congress. Explaining this argument, then-White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer quoted a letter that then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent members of Congress on April 18, 2002. "A formal declaration of war or other authorization from the Congress is not required to enable the president to undertake the full range of actions that may be necessary to protect our national security," wrote Gonzales.
An Aug. 26, 2002, story in The Washington Post quoted a senior administration official: "We don't want, in getting a resolution, to have conceded that one was constitutionally necessary."
Bush rejected this thinking. "At the appropriate time," he said on Sept. 4, 2002, "this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval necessary to deal with the threat."
If Bush had gone to war without the "approval necessary," it might have proved impossible for him to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. Without the resolution in Congress authorizing the war then, there would be far less resolution in Congress to finish the war now.
The furious post-invasion debate over bad intelligence on Iraq would have been even more furious. As casualties mounted and the popularity of the war waned, senior Democrats could have led the antiwar movement from inside Congress without having to account for why they voted to authorize the war and why, when they did so, they outlined the perceived threat of Saddam Hussein in the same terms as the president.
Some House Democrats probably would have agitated for impeachment.
Rather than nominate a presidential candidate who was forced to flip and flop as he explained his vote for the war, the Democrats may have nominated an expressly antiwar candidate -- and he might have won.
Today, rather than making slow, hard-won progress toward a stable post-Saddam Iraq, we might be deep in the process of withdrawing, leaving behind an Iraq veering toward civil war or worse.
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