To see members of Congress smiling behind President Bush, as he signed the "fast track" law by which Capitol Hill surrenders all rights to amend trade treaties, is to understand the new realities of power in this city. We have a Congress that recoils from responsibility.
The great congresses of Webster, Clay and Calhoun, which held this nation together, are history. No longer the first branch of government that the Founding Fathers intended, Congress today ranks in power and influence beneath the president and Supreme Court, and even beneath the U.S. bureaucracy and national press.
At the Constitutional Convention, the framer entrusted Congress, and it alone, with the power to take this nation into war. They wanted nothing to do with Caesarism.
Yet, since his "axis-of-evil" address, President Bush has threatened war, planned war, prepared for war, promised war. He has so committed us to destroying Iraq that the United States will suffer a humiliating loss of credibility if he now fails.
Yet, for six months, Congress has cravenly abdicated its duty to stand up and say to a president hell-bent on war, "Sir, you do not have the authority to take us into war."
Across America, questions are being raised that Congress refuses to ask of the President's War Cabinet.
What was Iraq's act of aggression against us that justifies war? How many troops will be needed to ensure the defeat and occupation of Iraq? Will we have to call up the reserves? How many casualties can we expect? Who will be at America's side on the road to Baghdad? How does the president intend to pay for a war that could cost $100 billion? Raise taxes? What will be the effect on the U.S. economy? The world economy?
How long do we intend to occupy Baghdad? What do we do if the Kurds exploit the chaos to declare independence? Help crush the Kurds? What do we do if Iran encourages the Iraqi Shi'ites to rise up, and they declare independence? What do we do if occupied Iraq turns into another Beirut, with U.S. troops daily subjected to sniper fire and suicide attacks?
Are we confident that in a second Gulf War the "Arab Street" will not succeed where it failed in the first, in overturning one or more of our allies -- in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or among the Gulf states? What will be the impact on nuclear-armed Pakistan?
In 1990, Iraq was the aggressor and the president's father had the support of every neighbor-nation save Iran and Jordan. We had the U.N. Security Council behind us, the entire Arab world, a united NATO, and the commitment of Japan and Germany to underwrite the war. We had the use of all bases in Saudi Arabia. Yet, even then, President Bush won the vote for war only by the narrowest of margins in the U.S. Senate.
This time, the Arab world is united against an attack on Iraq. Saudi Arabia will not let us use its bases. Germany's chancellor wants no part of the president's "adventure." Outside of Tony Blair -- and his support is tepid -- NATO enthusiasm is invisible. Not only is the U.S. government divided, depending on which paper you read, the U.S. military is divided over the wisdom and necessity of this war.
Even the national security adviser to the first President Bush, a co-architect of his Gulf War victory and co-author of his memoir, Gen. Brent Skowcroft warns that a U.S. war on Iraq could ignite the entire Middle East, imperiling all of America's vital interests in the region.
And where is Congress? Off on five weeks vacation, junketing, campaigning, fishing and doing everything else besides its solemn duty to debate and declare -- or refuse to declare -- war on Iraq.
Meanwhile, the War Party has slipped its leash. This week, The Washington Post reported that the Defense Review Board, chaired by Richard Perle and containing such luminaries as Henry Kissinger, had a secret briefing from a Rand Corp. analyst that Ariel Sharon might have called over-the-top. Message: After Baghdad comes Riyadh!
"Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies," the briefer asserted. Riyadh is "the kernel of evil, the prime enemy, the most dangerous opponent." After we capture Baghdad, give the Saudis an ultimatum and, if they balk, seize the oil fields.
For the president and War Party, there is now no turning back. But if this war turns into a debacle for America, moral responsibility will belong not only with them, but to this cowardly Congress that, in running away from its duty, has disgraced itself, dishonored the Founding Fathers and disserved the people who elected it.
Korea and Vietnam were presidential wars -- undeclared wars that tore us apart. Because Congress has failed us, we are headed into another.