TO: NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
SUBJECT: THE WAR POWERS RESOLUTION AND THE IRAQ MISSION
This memo briefly describes the circumstances under which Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution in 1973. It also addresses the resolution’s present relevance for the administration, and offers a recommendation for preempting its invocation.
Though the legislative branch has generally deferred to the executive in matters of foreign policy, and especially when the United States is involved in an international conflict, the War Powers Resolution was adopted in 1973 to re-assert congressional oversight over foreign policy.
Since World War Two the executive branch has had wide latitude in deploying US forces. During the Vietnam conflict, the Congress was moved to reclaim oversight authority. In 1966, Senator J. William Fulbright held televised hearings on Vietnam and repudiated his vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. By 1967, the rationale for the US involvement in Vietnam had been discredited and sentiment for repealing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was growing. Moreover, there was growing disillusionment with President Richard Nixon’s conduct of the conflict, particularly following the disclosures of the secret invasions of Laos and Cambodia and the deliberate bombing of civilian areas. In response to the call for repealing the resolution, President Nixon identified his role of commander in chief, and not the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as governing his conduct with regard to Southeast Asia.
The War Powers Resolution, passed in spite of President Nixon’s veto in 1973, requires the president to consult with congress prior to, and throughout the duration of, hostilities involving US armed forces.
Though questions of its constitutionality have not been resolved, the background of the War Powers Resolution has implications for the Bush Administration and the current mission in Iraq. The assumptions that underpin the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (The Iraq Resolution) have generally been invalidated. Moreover, there is growing discomfort with the monetary and human cost of the effort, and the Democrat-controlled Congress seems less willing to allow the White House the latitude it’s had for the last six years. It could assert its authority over the conflict by repealing the Iraq Resolution and/or invoking the War Powers Resolution.
The administration should acknowledge the changed environment for the conflict, as well as the new domestic political landscape, and preempt either action by Congress. The administration should work with Congress to pass a new resolution, one that redefines the mission in Iraq as being to secure and protect the civilian population until such time that the new regime is stable enough to assume the responsibility.
Even though they have not read my homework memo, Republican Senators John Warner and Richard Luger agree with it. A statement from Luger explained that they
are proposing an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would also declare the Senate's 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq "obsolete" and in need of revision.
Further paraphrasing my work, the statement continued,
Many of the conditions and motivations that existed when we authorized force almost five years ago no longer exist or are irrelevant to our current situation. Therefore, the amendment states that Congress expects the president to send Congress a new rationale for the authorization at the time of the Petraeus report.
I think this shows me to be at least semi-prescient, at least this once.
Both the New York Times and CNN.com had stories on this subject that you can read, if you want.