Today is a bleak day for America, and for all Americans. Congress, in its fear and conformity, has voted to grant authority to the President to conduct a preemptive war against another nation. Congress has joined the President in assuming an imperial mantle, granting powers above and beyond our obligations under international and domestic law.
Would that Congress had heeded its wiser and saner voices, such as Senator Robert Byrd, who cautioned restraint and warned that the vote to authorize the rush to war undermined our Constitution. Only Congress has the power to declare war under the US Constitution. It cannot legally give this power over to the president.
“We are at the gravest of moments,” Senator Byrd told his colleagues. “Members of Congress must not simply walk away from their Constitutional responsibilities. We are the directly elected representatives of the American people, and the American people expect us to carry out our duty, not simply hand it off to this or any other president. To do so would be to fail the people we represent and to fall woefully short of our sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution.”
International law, as imbedded in the United Nations Charter, allows for war under two tightly circumscribed conditions. First, a nation may engage in force for self-defense when an attack occurs or is imminent, but only if there is not time to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council and only until the United Nations Security Council assumes control of the situation. Second, a nation may engage in force when duly authorized by the United Nations Security Council after all efforts to secure the peace by peaceful means have failed.
Despite the congressional vote of false authority to the President, neither of these conditions of authorization to engage in war has been fulfilled. There is no evidence that an attack by Iraq on the United States or any other nation is imminent. Nor have the peaceful means to resolve Iraq’s compliance with earlier Security Council resolutions calling for dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction been pursued since the United Nations, under pressure from the United States, pulled its inspectors out of Iraq four years ago. Iraq has indicated its willingness to resume inspections, but the Bush administration has been reluctant to take Yes for an answer and accept their offer of compliance.
September 11th will be remembered in America as the tragic day terrorists made evident the vulnerability of even the world’s most powerful nation. October 11th should be remembered as the day that Congress meekly and uncourageously gave to the President of the United States the illegal authority to commit preemptive war. Such war, in the context of World War II called “aggressive war,” is what Nazi and Japanese leaders were held to account for at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials following World War II.
Such war is far from the proud traditions of America dating back to its Declaration of Independence. This is not the way that America should be leading the world, for it will result in international chaos, instability and increased insecurity. Now it is up to ordinary Americans to take to the streets and by their presence make it known in Washington and throughout the world that the American public does not support putting the face of Saddam on the innocent children of Iraq; nor does it support high-altitude bombing and other of acts of aggressive warfare in the name of a false and Orwellian peace.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His latest book is Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age.