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A CONSTITUTIONAL APPROACH TO IRAQ

Warren Mass
Submitted by Charleston Voice
Dec. 2, 2005

Those who debate the strategic elements of the war in Iraq, and who question the patriotism of those with whom they disagree, might be well advised to read the Constitution first, and Teddy Roosevelt's definition of patriotism second, before engaging in unwarranted polemics.

On November 30 President Bush defended his Iraq policy before an audience at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Facing shrinking support for his position (in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in November, 62 percent of Americans said they disapproved of the administration’s Iraq policy), such presidential speeches can accurately be described as damage control. Not since 1968, when growing opposition to the war in Vietnam caused Lyndon Johnson to decline seeking re-election, has a foreign policy issue hurt a president’s popularity so markedly.

Though parallels between Vietnam and Iraq are often drawn, it is inaccurate to categorize support for — and opposition to — the current war in Vietnam War-era terminology. One reason for the inadequacy of 1960s labels to describe today’s events is that the political spectrum has shifted considerably to the left over the past 40 years. Yet, the old labels remain in use: Republican supporters of the president and the war in Iraq are labeled as “conservatives,” while their opponents, by default, are given the “liberal” badge. Yet, by any other yardstick traditionally used to define those terms (e.g., expanding the size, scope, and power of the federal government, or increasing government spending and the national debt) there is little difference between the two parties.

While there are certainly some opponents of the war in Iraq who fit the 1960s, liberal-left mold, how would one describe a constitutionally conservative, politically libertarian opponent? For example, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who voted against H.J. Res. 114, the resolution authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq, is arguably the most conservative member of the House. Rep. Paul has repeatedly introduced legislation to withdraw the United States from the United Nations, and before the invasion started he commented: “The bizarre irony is while we may act unilaterally in Iraq, the very justification for our invasion is that we are enforcing U.N. resolutions.”

On October 3, 2002, when President Bush’s request to support his efforts to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq came before the House International Relations Committee chaired by Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, Congressman Paul sought to amend it by adding a declaration of war. Dr. Paul explained that he intended to vote against his own amendment! He simply wanted congressmen who supported going to war against Iraq to satisfy the Constitution’s “declaration of war” requirement. “I attempted to force the committee to follow the Constitution and vote to declare war with Iraq,” he explained.

In responding to Rep. Paul’s proposal, Chairman Hyde stated: “There are things in the Constitution that have been overtaken by events, by time. Declaration of war is one.... These things are no longer relevant to a modern society.” The supposedly “conservative” Hyde went on to call Dr. Paul’s demand for a strict interpretation of the Constitution “inappropriate, anachronistic.”

Congressman Paul’s amendment was defeated by a committee vote of 45 to 0. On October 10th, the full House unconstitutionally delegated the power to go to war to President Bush by a vote of 296 to 133. The Senate followed suit the next day on a 77 to 23 vote.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution clearly states: “The Congress shall have power … to declare war....” Not the President, not the United Nations — Congress.

Every member of Congress, as well as every member of our armed forces, takes an oath, stating in part: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic….” The oath taken by members of the armed forces also obligates them to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over them, so, unfortunately, these brave men and women are in a hopeless dilemma. One thing patriots of all political stripes can agree on is that our troops are worthy of our support.

The same is not true of a president and Congress that routinely disregard the Constitution they have sworn to support and defend. It has become “neoconservative chic” among Republican Party faithful to question the patriotism of anyone who will not support the war in Iraq — not the troops — but the war itself. By making support of a war that is being waged outside of the bounds of our Constitution their barometer for patriotism, these jingoists reveal that their understanding of the Constitution is no better than their understanding of what it means to be a patriot. We might remind them how a well-loved Republican president, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt defined patriotism:

“Patriotism means to stand by the county. It does NOT mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”


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