Unringing the bell

There’s a rather fascinating (at least, to me) discussion going around the blogosphere and the real world lately, inspired by the Democrats’ “non-binding resolution” against the war. And it’s a simple question:

Just what can Congress do, if it should choose, to end the US involvement in the fighting in Iraq?

The first time I encountered it was over at Peter David’s (my favorite author and absolute barking moonbat of a leftist) site, where he was blunt: he had no idea what the answer is, so he was asking his readers to offer their opinions. Captain Ed offered his own opinion, and actually had a civilized discourse with Glenn Greenwald (or one of his sock puppets) about the matter. Ed apparently started out believing they did not, but now is not so sure.

I’m no Constitutional scholar or expert on the minutiae of the federal system, but I’ve found that I’ve got a slightly-better-than-average grasp of the Constitution and a fairly decent instinct on how things “ought” to be. With that disclaimer, I offer my opinion:

Yes, Congress can un-declare war, or in this case, amend or repeal an Authorization for Use of Military Force.

One of the key precepts of the Constitution is the checks and balances that keep any one branch of our federal government from taking too much power. While the President has the power to fight wars, it is limited (in theory) to only those wars Congress authorizes. Conversely, Congress could declare war against the Duchy of Grand Fenwick tomorrow, but it will be a hollow document if the President doesn’t order the military to actually wage that war. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.”

To continue the metaphor, I don’t think there is such a thing as a solo tango. It takes the cooperation of both branches (or, at least, the approval of the president and the tacit acquiescence of the Congress) to continue the effort. If Congress were to decide that they’ve had enough and want to sit the rest of the song out, the President shouldn’t be able to continue to tear up the dance floor.

To say that Congress can declare war, but cannot un-declare war, is to say that the declaration is a blank check to the Chief Executive, and I don’t like that. If that were the case, then the wildest, most paranoid delusions of the most extreme barking moonbats would actually have a slim base in reality: a president could, by

However, simply issuing a “non-binding resolution” is utterly meaningless. It’s the wishy-washy approach, something done simply to convey the illusion of taking action. My Christian friends would probably cite Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

If Congress really wanted to end the war, I would suggest they simply pass a bill repealing the AUMF. It would say something like this:

“Whereas the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was for the objective of removing the Baathist regime in Iraq, and
Whereas said regime has been toppled; and
Whereas the former leaders of that regime are in exile, fugitives, imprisoned, or deceased;
The Authorization for the Use of Military Force has been fulfilled, and shall expire six months upon the passage of this Act.”

That’s the theory. In practice, though, it would be a bit tougher. They would need to have the measure pass both houses, against a likely Republican threat to filibuster. And if they do that, they very well might need to override a presidential veto.

Or not. It would be a struggle between Bush’s commitment to fight the war versus his reluctance to wield the veto pen, and both have shown themselves to be formidable forces.

I read a book a few years ago — “Balance of Power,” by James Huston. It’s not great writing, but it brings up some fascinating thoughts and observations about the interplay of the various government branches when it comes to war. The fine details of the act are convoluted — since Congress has the exclusive power to declare war, can it do so without a Presidential signature? And if the president did sign, do they need his consent to un-declare the war? Certain measures Congress passes do NOT need Executive approval, such as articles of impeachment; do declarations of war (or, in this case, AUMFs) fall into that category?

I’m tossing the whole question out to the readership, because I simply don’t know. I am asking, though, that the arguments revolve around the issues, not the particulars of this instance or the personalities involved. I’ve tried that before, with middling success, but I am ever the optimist.

"Check, please!"
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