Saturday, November 17, 2007

They don't understand the Constitution

In his radio address today, President Bush faulted Congress for passing a war-funding bill that includes a condition setting goals for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"We do not need members of Congress telling our commanders what to do," Bush said.

Lots of people who support Bush in this controversy have the mistaken notion that the only constitutional roles for Congress in matters of war are to authorize the war and provide the funds. Their theory is that only the commander-in-chief and his generals have any authority under the Constitution to prosecute the war.
But these people, Bush included, are woefully uninformed on the constitutional niceties of such matters.

Consider these remarks by legendary American statesman Daniel Webster during the Mexican War of the late 1840s:
If the war should become odious to the people, if they shall disapprove the objects for which it appears to be prosecuted, then it will be the bounden duty of their representatives in Congress to demand of the President a full statement of his objects and purposes, and if those purposes shall appear to them not to be founded in the public good, or not consistent with the honor and character of the country, then it shall be their duty to put an end to it, by the exercise of their constitutional authority. . . . If Congress, in whom the war-making power is expressly made to reside, is to have no voice in the declaration or continuance of war, if it is not to judge of the beginning or carrying it on, then we depart at once from the Constitution.
Or consider these words from Henry Clay during that same period:
Must we blindly continue the conflict without any visible object, or any prospect of a definite termination? . . . If it be contended that war having been once commenced, the President of the United States may direct it to the accomplishment of any object he pleases, without consulting and without any regard to the will of Congress, the Convention will have utterly failed in guarding the nation against the abuses and ambition of a single individual. Either Congress or the President must have the right of determining upon the objects for which a war shall be prosecuted. There is no other alternative. If the President possess it and may prosecute it and may prosecute it for the objects against the will of Congress, where is the difference between our free government and that of any other nation which may be governed by an absolute czar, emperor, or king?

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