More than 240,000 U.S. Troops are positioned in Saudi Arabia and 200,000 more are on the way. The president is moving from a defensive to an offensive posture and he has stated his belief that he does not need prior congressional approval before taking unilateral offensive action.
This situation requires the application of one of the most basic tenets of our Constitution, the safeguarding mechanism of the separation of powers, designed by our Founding Fathers to prevent a concentration of power in any one branch of government.Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution clearly gives the president the responsibility to serve as commander in chief of our armed forces once war is declared. But just as clearly, Article I, Section 8, clause 11 gives Congress the responsibility to declare war.
And if the words of the Constitution are not clear enough, this position is affirmed as the intent of the Founding Fathers, beyond any reasonable doubt, through the records of the debate of the Constitutional Convention.
It is this simple, constitutionally clear distinction that I seek to uphold, and it is because of this constitutional distinction that I, along with 44 other members of Congress, have filed a lawsuit that asks the federal court to affirm the fact that, under our Constitution, the president lacks the authority to commit the United States to an offensive action without the consent of Congress.
The suit seeks both injunctive relief (a court order to prevent the president from acting without the approval of Congress) and declaratory relief (a declaration rather than an order).
Asking for injunctive relief ensures the case will be heard quickly. If the court issues only declaratory relief, the president would have a clear judicial declaration of the constitutional responsibilities of the president and the Congress. We do not ask the court to deal with the political issues, only the very narrow constitutional interpretation.
If the president chooses to act unilaterally, he will deny to Congress the right to vote on this issue, but more importantly, he will deny the American people their right to be represented in that decision.
If there was ever an opportunity for the Congress to debate the use of offensive force without American lives hanging on an instant decision, this is the time.
Open discussion and careful consideration do not preclude the president from responding to attack or protecting American lives. His authority as commander in chief in this event is unquestionable.
The president, however, has yet to make the case that we have exhausted every economic and diplomatic alternative to war. Why not permit more time for international sanctions to work? Moreover, it remains unclear how war will affect long-term American interests in the Middle East.
It may well be that, at some point, offensive action is the prudent course for the United States. Yet countless questions about possible conflict in the Persian Gulf not only remain unanswered, they remain unasked.
I seek a renewed commitment to constitutional process. The Vietnam War, Watergate and the Iran-Contra episode should have taught us the disastrous results of a disregard for the constitutional separation of powers, and the rule of law.
One of the painful lessons of Vietnam was that protracted conflict, particularly one with a high cost in human life, cannot be maintained without the support of the people and an explicit national commitment.
The issue of whether the United States should go to war in the Persian Gulf will be debated by the American people, if not now, then certainly later; and if not in Congress, then perhaps in the streets.
If we can debate the issue before the United Nations, and seek U.N. approval, it is certainly appropriate to seek congressional debate and approval.
Coupled with the president's directive on Nov. 9 that the Secretary of defense ensure an offensive military option, the additional deployments to the gulf suggest a movement toward war without congressional authorization, without a national debate or commitment, and in clear violation of the Constitution. Deprived of a vote between sessions, Congress' only recourse lies in the judiciary.
Seeking to uphold the Constitution is not a radical action. I simply want a determination on the fundamental question of how this nation can be committed to waging war. It is crucial that the president and the Congress jointly weigh the cost of war against the national security interest.
Whatever decision is made, should, in a representative government, be the decision of the people. It is to that end that I am committed.