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Gelb-Slaughter Oped on War Powers--WashPost 11-8-05

** <>*No More
Blank-Check Wars*

By Leslie H. Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter
Tuesday, November 8, 2005; A19

Most wars overflow with mistakes and surprises. Still, in Iraq, much
that has gone wrong could have been foreseen -- and was. For example,
most experts knew that 100,000 U.S. troops couldn't begin to provide
essential security and that Iraqi oil revenue wouldn't dent war costs.
But none of this was nailed down beforehand in any disciplined review.

And Iraq, whether justified or not, is only the latest in a long line of
ill-considered and ill-planned U.S. military adventures. Time and again
in recent decades the United States has made military commitments after
little real debate, with hazy goals and no appetite for the inevitable
setbacks. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson plunged us into the Vietnam
War with little sense of the region's history or culture. Ronald Reagan
dispatched Marines to Lebanon, saying that stability there was a "vital
interest," only to yank them out 16 months later after a deadly
terrorist attack on Marine barracks. Bill Clinton, having inherited a
mission in Somalia to feed the starving, ended up hunting tribal leaders
and trying to build a nation.

Too often our leaders have entered wars with unclear and unfixed aims,
tossing away American lives, power and credibility before figuring out
what they were doing and what could be done. Congress saw the problem
after the Vietnam War and tried to fix it with the War Powers Act. It
states that troops sent into combat by the president must be withdrawn
within 60 days unless Congress approves an extension. But presidents
from Richard Nixon on never recognized the validity of this legislation
against their powers as commander in chief. Nor did Congress ever assert
its rights and take political responsibility. Since the Korean War, the
process has consisted at most of a presidential request for a
congressional resolution, a few serious speeches and authorization for
the president to do whatever he wants. Odds are against changing these
"political realities." But impaled as we are on the costs and
carelessness of so many of our recent wars, it is worth trying to find a
better way.

As often happens, an answer can be found with the Founding Fathers and
the Constitution. They could not have foreseen the present age of
nuclear missiles and cataclysmic terrorism. But they understood
political accountability, and they knew that sending Americans to war
required careful reflection and vigorous debate. Their answer survives
in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, which gives Congress --
and only Congress -- the power to declare war. That power, exercised
only a few times in our history, and not at all since World War II,
needs to be reestablished and reinforced by new legislation. This
legislation would fix guidelines for exercising the provision jointly
between the White House and Congress. It would restore the Framers'
intent by requiring a congressional declaration of war in advance of any
commitment of troops that promises sustained combat.

Requiring Congress to declare war, rather than just approve or authorize
the president's decision to take troops into combat, would make it much
harder for Congress to duck its responsibilities. The president would be
required to give Congress an analysis of the threat, specific war aims
with their rationale and feasibility, general strategy and potential
costs. Congress would hold hearings, examine the information and
conclude with a full floor debate and solemn vote.

In case of a sudden attack on the United States or Americans abroad, the
president would retain his power to repel that attack and strike back
without a congressional declaration. But any sustained operations would
trigger the declaration process. In other words, the president could
send troops into Afghanistan to hunt down al Qaeda and punish the
Taliban in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. But if he planned to keep
the troops there to topple the government and transform the country, he
would need a congressional declaration. Without one, funding would be
restricted to bringing the troops home soon and safely.

This declaration process should appeal to conservatives and even
neocons. It meets their valid concern that the United States often loses
diplomatic showdowns and wars not on the battlefield but at home. It
adds credibility to presidential threats and staying power to our
military commitments. Binding Congress far more closely to war, for
instance, might have convinced Saddam Hussein of Washington's resolve to
fight him in both gulf wars; today it would help convince insurgents in
Iraq of America's long-term commitment to make Iraq secure. Liberals and
moderates, always rightly complaining about a rush to war, would welcome
the restored declaration. Not least, the attractiveness of this approach
would be aided by the political power of the Constitution itself.

Nor would the process proposed here diminish a president's leadership or
stature as commander in chief as he makes his case to Congress. If, even
with these advantages, his arguments fail, then the case cannot be very

Today Congress deliberates on transportation bills more carefully than
it does on war resolutions. Our Founding Fathers wanted the declaration
of war to concentrate minds. Returning to the Constitution's text and
making it work through legislation requiring joint deliberate action may
be the only way to give the decision to make war the care it deserves.

/Leslie H. Gelb is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign
Relations. Anne-Marie Slaughter is the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School
of International and Public Affairs. This piece is drawn from a longer
version <> in the
November issue of the Atlantic Monthly./

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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