Sunday, March 25, 2007

How 'bout a Declaration of War?

I'm enjoying Digby's commentary again today and he has sparked a marvelous idea that springs from teh 1970 era where Congress (finally) took a stand against the war in Viet Nam. Here's how Rick Pearlstein (via Digby) describes it:

"...McGovern, D-S.D., and Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., were in charge of the granddaddy of them all: an amendment requiring the president to either go to Congress for a declaration of war or end the war, by Dec. 31, 1970. Walter Shapiro wrote that a "skittish" Congress made sure its antiwar legislation had "loopholes" to permit the president to take action to protect U.S. troops in the field" -- which means no genuine congressional exit mandate at all. But McGovern-Hatfield had no such "loopholes." (Of course, McGovern Hatfield didn't pass, and thus wasn't subject to the arduous political negotiating process that might have added them.) It was four sentences long, and said: Without a declaration of war, Congress would appropriate no money for Vietnam other than "to pay costs relating to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces, to the termination of United States military operations ... to the arrangement for exchanges of prisoners of war," and to "food and other non-military supplies and services" for the Vietnamese...." ingenious....Hatfield and McGovern were using the subtle (and sometime maddening) quirk in the Constitution that only Congress can declare war but only the President can commit troops, to force the hand of the President. Implicit in that quirk is that the President can only maneauver troops IF THERE IS A DECLARED WAR. All this "police action" stuff was being used to circumvent the Congress and their sole mandate to declare war....much like what is being done today.

The infamous ATUMF (Authorization to use military force) resolution was a was done deliberately to skirt the issue and avoid the legal, diplomatic and internationally sensitive issues of going to war. It also cleverly by-passed any kind of Congressional Debate that might have undermined the already suspect reasons for going to war.

So why not force his hand?

If it's a war, as he calls it, the GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, which even conservatives are now questioning, let him ask Congress for a formal declaration....or lose funding except asn McGovern and Hatfield provided in 1972.

Of course, as Digby noted, McGovern - Hatfield did not pass...but it served a purpose...and, as it turns out, a very important purpose....Digby explains:

With McGovern-Hatfield holding down the left flank, the moderate-seeming Cooper-Church passed out of the Foreign Relations Committee almost immediately. Was the president on the defensive? And how. His people rushed out a substitute "to make clear that the Senate wants us out of Cambodia as soon as possible." Two of the most hawkish and powerful Southern Democrats, Fritz Hollings and Eugene Talmadge, announced they were sick of handing blank checks to the president. A tide had turned, decisively.

Digby thinks that the passage of the budget resolution that Dave Obey put together last week restored the public's faith in the Democratic party....they were beginning to lose faith because they voted in November a STRONG messsage to get us out of Iraq and almost four months later had done next to nothing. He has a nice summary:

Having said all that, let me just emphasize again that a strong left flank is tremendously important to making that (ending the war...ed note)happen. Without the grassroots pressure and the "out of Iraq" caucus publicly holding the line on the vote and then offering to free certain members who were willing to vote for the bill at the last moment, it wouldn't have passed --- and the liberals wouldn't have collected the chits they need for the next round (or received a standing ovation from their caucus.) This is what a functioning political coalition that is working together looks like. It isn't pretty, but it's how things get done.

(Note: he praises the coalition without once mentioning the name of Dave Obey.....I'm a little miffed)

But what about forcing the President to defend his war? Waht about making him justify his extravagant expenditures. What about making him come before Congress (to address a joint session maybe?) and to also send his staff up to hearings to testify UNDER OATH why we need to have a declaration of war? It's a fascinating proposition and I hope Digby or Atrios or Kos riff on the idea soon....I think the "netroots" could make it happen.

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