An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal agrees that President Bush has full authority under the Constitution to order the U.S. military to depose Saddam Hussein. It argues, however, that under the logic of politics in a democracy, the President should seek approval from Congress. The Journal identifies practical advantages of doing so — to avoid being second-guessed on every decision if things get sticky (don’t count on that one); to compel greater political honesty by making members of Congress take a stand; and to clarify the administration’s own position through debate.
George Will, on the other hand, believes that congressional approval is not just a matter of prudence, but is also constitutionally required. He acknowledges that presidents have often used military force without such approval. But Will notes that these were not cases of a large engagement in the absence of a surprise attack. The reference to an attack may be an attempt to distinguish the current situation with Iraq from the Korean War, when the U.S. incurred more than 50,000 casualties in a drawn-out action that Congress never approved. The distinction is valid, but not necessarily of consititutional significance. In other words, it is not clear why, as a constitutional matter, waging a massive war to repel enemy aggression against a faraway nation does not require congressional authorization but launching a pre-emptive strike does.
The best case for going to Congress remains the prudential one.
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