Why Congress Must Reauthorize the Use of the Constitution

By David Swanson

It is at least conceivable that Congressman Jack Murtha and company are backing off on requiring that Bush and Cheney send only prepared, equipped, and rested men and women to the slaughter for more than one reason. One reason, of course, is that Fox News has called Murtha and company traitors. But there could be a second reason. Someone somewhere may just have pointed out that Congress has enacted these limitations before and Bush has undone them with a signing statement. Maybe ending the war by doing something you’d already done (without ending the war) finally smelled too fishy, given the abuse that would have had to be withstood to achieve it. Here’s Bush’s unconstitutional and unconscionable statement.


The disadvantages in a debate of being an opposition political party or of being an activist organization promoting peace or justice are unavoidable. They occur no matter what. Those with more money and more power attack you merely for existing. You can only avoid this by going the Joe Lieberman route and completely abandoning your identity. The advantages, however, are harder to come by. Those with less money and less power combine their time and energy to support and defend you only if you really make it worth their while.

The Democratic “leadership” in Congress is currently taking the Alan Colmes route, which provides the worst of both worlds. Colmes, of course, is the man who pretends to be a liberal on the Fox “News” show “Hannity and Colmes” by taking positions just inches to the left of the ever-rightwarding stance of his employer and his co-host. In return for taking so many blows for liberalism on the air, Colmes is rewarded with not an ounce of support from the public, since no one on the left passionately agrees with him on anything. Sure, PR flacks will be nice to him, because he works for the corporate media, but have you ever seen a street closed off because of the crowd size at an Alan Colmes rally?

Moveon.org for some time now has been making a bid for recognition as the Alan Colmes of activism. Moveon is routinely denounced in the media for its liberal, pacifist ways, but has the most tenuous connections to the peace movement, since it does not support any legislation to end the war. (It supports ending only the recent escalation.) This is not all bad for Moveon. Alan Colmes makes a bundle, and any publicity is good publicity. People who hear that Moveon is part of the peace movement are moved to sign onto its list.

This is, of course, also the story of the online Howard Dean Campaign and its lamentable results for the leadership of the Democratic Party. There are to this day people walking the face of the earth who believe Howard Dean opposes the war. And hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t complain to me about not including Moveon in a coalition for impeachment. The delusion – the inclination to believe the media rather than your own eyes – can be so intense that people will swear up and down that they’ve received pro-impeachment Emails from Moveon. The time it takes to explain why that is impossible and then to deal with the subsequent urges to lobby Moveon to actually become what the television said it was is probably surpassed in its power to drain useful energy only by the premature election season.

But it’s unfair to single-out Moveon, which actually encouraged people to attend an anti-war march in January. MoveCongress.org and the Win Without War coalition, which includes Moveon and numerous peace groups, have been promoting as anti-war a pro-war proposal from Murtha, resulting in an assault from the right, weak token support from the left, and a Democratic retreat from what was already significant backtracking. Now there’s talk in Congress of reauthorizing the war, which – like limiting the length of service for troops while funding more war – is also being marketed to the peace movement as a sneaky way to achieve peace. But it is very unlikely that peace will be won by legerdemain, because the only force backing peace is public pressure. Tricks and ploys should be left to war makers. The public likes a straight story.


Craig Crawford, writing in Congressional Quarterly, argues that the Democrats aren’t at all interested in ending the war. Rather, all they care about is the 2008 elections:

“If Democrats are determined to go all the way to stop the Iraq war, they will probably have to impeach, convict and oust President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — which is another way of saying that Democrats are not going to stop or limit this war. That is because it is a safe bet that Democrats are not prepared to go that far, and an even safer bet that Bush will veto anything Congress passes. So what is the point of Democratic congressional leaders staging votes on binding legislation without having the votes to override a veto (as evidenced by their failure to pass a non-binding resolution in the Senate)? Forcing Republicans to repeatedly go on the record in support of Bush’s unpopular war policies — while having no effect in Iraq — does serve Democratic interests in hammering GOP incumbents at the ballot box next year.”

In fact, there are peace groups now strategizing about how the 2008 election will help them to end the war, the war they’ve been trying to end since 2003, and which the American public delivered a mandate against in the 2006 elections, the war the majority of U.S. troops wanted to see end in 2006. How ugly is this? Let me count the ways:

1.-Americans are not going to vote for Democrats who failed to act for two years. Americans voted for Democrats after the Democrats stopped Nixon, not after they let Reagan off the hook. Cowardice is the worst possible election strategy. The growing majority of eligible voters that stays home on election day will increase dramatically.

2.-As long as everyone in Washington understands that wars are pieces in an electoral chess game, no election will ever end a war. Instead, we will add new wars to the mix. The Democrats will feign opposition because they think the wars hurt the Republicans. The Republicans will create new wars, because the old ones are going poorly and flag sales are down.

3.-If the Democrats were to promote a real cut off of funding for the war, even if it didn’t pass, an opposition party would receive the benefit of popular support. If it passed and was vetoed, Bush would destroy the Republican Party’s electoral future and perhaps finally awaken a bipartisan impeachment effort in the House. If it passed and was signed, and Bush continued the war, impeachment would begin at once. Since Bush began this war in secret without legal funding, has promised never to end it, and has declared himself above the rule of law, it seems unlikely he will end the war, whether or not he vetoes a bill ending it. There are already members of Congress, including Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) and John Conyers (D., Michigan) saying they will impeach if Bush attacks Iran without Congressional support. Staying in Iraq in violation of a newly passed law will be seen as a similar affront.

4.-One reason Nixon did not veto a bill ending funding of the Vietnam war, and one reason Congress had the nerve to pass it in the first place, was the advance of the impeachment process in the Congress. Crawford is probably right that impeachment is needed to end the war, but not exactly for the reasons he imagines. Impeachment is needed to remove an outlaw who will disobey Congress even in the face of a veto-override, but it is also needed to steel Congress to the task of ending the war in the first place.

5.-Impeachment is not less likely than other approaches to ending the war. Impeachment is not just about the war, but unites concerns over the war with others about illegal spying, detentions, torture, signing statements, Katrina, and much more. Impeachment is about reauthorizing the Constitution. Impeachment is likely to begin with Cheney, and his impeachment will reshape all the above calculations in favor of the peace movement. Congress will grow a spine, and Bush will lose a puppet master.

6.-Since the public and the Democratic base oppose almost every aspect of the Bush Cheney agenda at home and abroad, and since Bush can veto or signing-statement any bill, Crawford’s argument appears to be for Congress to simply go on vacation for two years, which is – of course – exactly what the White House wants. But our democracy will only survive the assaults of this unitary executive and the big man pulling his strings if Congress grows more, not less, active.

7.-The reason impeachment is more likely than other proposals to get off the ground is not just the clarity of the case (confessing to FISA violations, reversing laws with publicly posted signing statements, planning an illegal war based on fraud with Tony Blair in a January 2003 meeting with a note taker present, etc.). That case wouldn’t matter if impeachment proceedings never begin. Impeachment is likely to begin because one or more state legislatures are likely to petition the U.S. House to begin it (which legally does begin it, upon acceptance of the petition by a single Congress Member). Washington, New Mexico, and Vermont have bills making their way to passage.

The Jefferson Manual – rule book for the US House – allows for this way of initiating impeachment, but is silent on states’ abilities to initiate nonbinding reauthorizations of genocides with or without strict expressions of hesitation or troop equipment.

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