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Ask Congress first

Strictly speaking, President Bush has the authority to invade Iraq without specific, new approval by Congress, and one reason is a law intended as a roadblock to overeager

administrations, the 1973 War Powers Act.

That law, meant to resolve constitutional muddiness on the issue, says a president can

instigate a military action for 60 days and up to 90, but cannot keep military forces in play unless Congress has agreed.

The law, in other words, leaves the president free to invade as he chooses, a worry being that Congress will tell him to cease and desist. But how likely would such congressional action be once U.S. forces were committed? Not very, it would seem.

The president has other reasons to believe he can attack Iraq without asking fresh permission from Congress. The Constitution designates him commander in chief, and the founders seemed to grasp that congressional deliberations prior to military action

are not always practical.

In the case of Iraq, Congress did pass a war resolution in 1991. Since then, Saddam Hussein has broken a weapons-inspection treaty that would have no meaning short of the implied threat that disregarding its terms could lead to a resumption of that war.

Also, following the Sept. 11 attack, Congress authorized the president to take military action against terrorism, and while it seems less than definite, it could be that Hussein has had close involvement with al-Qaida.

For such reasons, White House counsel Al Gonzales has reportedly advised Bush that he can move ahead without further congressional ado if he wants. He shouldn't.

The founders, in giving Congress the constitutional right to declare war, surely did not

mean Congress should be thus ignored, even if a clarifying law has opened the door something more than a crack or past resolutions rationally could be taken to mean

more than many of those voting for them at the time probably intended.

If the president decides that military action against Iraq is crucial, he should ask Congress for formal support while simultaneously stating his case in forceful terms to

the public.

Unless something drastic has happened between now and then, he will probably receive the sort of concurrence the public has already indicated in polls, and the nation can move ahead in a strong, unified, nonpartisan way to rid the world of the horrendous danger of a madman murdering hundreds of thousands of people.

Birmingham Post-Herald

August 27, 2002