Thursday, January 18, 2007

Relax? Don't Do It

Many people now believe that the Bush administration desperately wants to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. In fact, almost everyone would agree that that's what they want to do.

Many people are also concerned by recent signs which suggest that the Bush administration has already started down the road towards making it happen. There are others, however, who argue that whatever Bush's intentions might be, this desperately unpopular lame duck President doesn't have the authority to make it happen. "Relax" they say, "Congress would not allow it".

Given everything we know about the Bush administration, the last thing we should do is relax.

Let's start at the beginning. Pat Buchanan, for all that there's a very clear agenda behind this article, is essentially right about the Democrats. Back in 2002/03, the Democrats cheered Bush into launching a disastrous war of choice in much the same way that the Tories cheered Blair. Neither opposition party, neither legislature in fact, has a record to boast of when it comes to opposing Bush and Blair's rush to quagmire in Iraq. Neither is now in the lead in demanding that Bush and Blair be held to account for their actions.

The comforting thought now is that although Congress did not oppose Bush over Iraq, the political climate today is very different to the one which existed in 2002/03. Indeed, it is precisely because of Iraq that Bush's words and actions are now subject to far greater scrutiny and scepticism. The strategies which the administration employed to justify that war will not work again this time. For those reasons, it is argued, Bush won't be having his military action against Iran, whether he wants it or not.

That the political climate has changed in Congress and in the U.S. as a whole is beyond dispute. After Bush's speech. Ron Paul, a Republican member of Congress, said he was concerned that "a contrived Gulf of Tonkin-type incident may occur to gain popular support for an attack on Iran". He also noted that "speculation in Washington focuses on when, not if, either Israel or the U.S. will bomb Iran".

Walter Jones, a another Republican Congressman, has introduced a Joint Resolution demanding that Bush seek Congressional approval before ordering any use of military force against Iran. From the Buchanan article:
The day after Bush's threat to Iran, Jones introduced a Joint Resolution, "Concerning the Use of Military Force by the United States Against Iran." Under HJR 14, "Absent a national emergency created by attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States, its territories, possessions or its armed forces, the president shall consult with Congress, and receive specific authorization pursuant to law from Congress, prior to initiating any use of force on Iran."
That this resolution is the work of one of the men who brought Freedom Fries to Congress is as potent a sign of the changed political climate as you'll ever find. How could Bush possibly get what he wants in the face of such opposition even from within his own party?

Well, Bush almost certainly believes that he has the authority to order military action against Iran without the express approval of Congress. This again from the Pat Buchanan article:
On ABC last Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, while denying Bush intends to attack Iran, nonetheless did not deny Bush had the authority to escalate the war -- right into Iran.

George Stephanopoulos: "So you don't believe you have the authority to go into Iran?"

Stephen Hadley: "I didn't say that. That is another issue. Any time you have questions about crossing international borders, there are legal questions."

Any doubt how Attorney General Gonzales would come down on those "legal questions"? Any doubt how the Supreme Court would rule?
No, I don't think there is.

Bush has made a mockery of the accepted limits of Presidential power under the Constitution almost from the very start of his Presidency.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law.


On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.

After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief.
Even if Congress approves the resolution put forward by Freedom Fries Jones, even if the Bush administration utters not one word of opposition to it, there's no reason to believe that Bush wouldn't simply issue a signing statement to the effect that it was unconstitutional and that he could therefore ignore its provisions.

There is, rather, every reason to believe that he considers previous Congressional support for the "war" on terror to be all the authorisation he needs to conduct whatever military action he deems necessary anywhere in the world.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said he was not aware of any consultations with Congress before the assault.
This was the first overt U.S. military action in Somalia since 1994. and the first Congress knew of it was when they heard it on the news. When Bush claims to be "decider in chief", he's not messing around.

In truth, it would be very difficult for Congress to stop the Bush administration from getting what it wants on Iran. To be absolutely certain, Bush and Cheney would need to be removed from office before the crisis/excuse/manufactured incident occurs (take your pick). The question is, does Congress have the bottle to take out Bush and Cheney in a pre-emptive strike? Could they possibly do it without conclusive evidence of the administrations intentions, evidence the administration is extremely unlikely to provide? Now there's an irony.

There may be a handful of members of Congress with the courage to attempt this but no more than that. The vast majority of them, career politicians first and foremost, will not. Instead, they'll simply position themselves so that they can't personally be blamed for Bush's actions. Freedom Fries Jones, who undoubtedly knows the President's attitude towards Congressional restrictions on his role as commander in chief, has got his positioning in nice and early. "I tried to stop him, it wasn't my fault..."

Public opinion may not have any effect on the Bush administration but it does have an effect on most members of Congress. If there's any way to stop Bush, it's to make members of Congress understand that simply adopting the posture of opposition is not enough.

Here's Ron Paul's fatalistic assessment again: "Speculation in Washington focuses on when, not if, either Israel or the U.S. will bomb Iran". That's not good enough. Now is not the time to relax.

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