Amidst all the talk about whether President Bush is going to wage another war of aggression — this time against Iran — it’s important that we keep one fact in mind: Under the U.S. Constitution, President Bush is precluded from waging war against Iran without a declaration of war from Congress.
That is, despite what President Bush claims, when it comes to declaring war it is not Bush who is the legitimate and legal “decider.” It is the Congress. That’s the law — the law of the Constitution — the law that the people of the United States have imposed on the president and all other federal officials.
The purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of those who are in office, including the president. It is designed to prevent the rise of dictatorial power, even by officials who have been elected into office. Federal officials, from the president on down, are expected to comply with this higher law as much as they expect us to comply with their laws. When they break our law, they become lawbreakers, which is exactly what President Bush is — by virtue of his undeclared war of aggression against Iraq — and will be, by virtue of his possible upcoming war of aggression against Iran.
So, why does President Bush claim that he, not Congress, is “the decider” when it comes to deciding whether war will be waged against another country? Did the American people amend the Constitution to transfer the power to declare war to the president? No. President Bush feels that because previous presidents have ignored this constitutional restraint, he has the power to do so as well. But obviously that is a ridiculous notion. Simply because previous presidents have broken the law does not operate as a de facto amendment to the Constitution that empowers subsequent presidents to break the law.
With the debacle in Iraq becoming an ever-lengthening quagmire into which our nation is trapped — a quagmire that will certainly deepen if Bush attacks Iran, Americans will have plenty of time to reflect upon the wisdom of the Framers in separating the power to declare war and the power to wage war. One issue will be how big a price Americans will have to pay to learn this important lesson in constitutional law.