A date to remember will be the night of
June 20, 2006. That's the night the United States
Congress was fooled for the second time.
Remember October 2002 and
much has happened since then that it seems like
Or at least that is what
the Bush administration would like to have the
public think. One constant theme that emanates
from the White House is that whatever mistakes
might have been made in the past - eg, the reasons
given to justify going to war with Saddam
Hussein's Iraq - they are behind us. It's "water
bridge", or maybe "over
the dam" - take your pick.
example of trying to spin this web occurred in
on June 21 during
a presidential press conference following the
US-European Union summit. Asked why Europeans in
recent opinion polls held the United States in low
regard as a force for peace, President George W
Bush in effect discounted the poll results as a
perceptual problem for Europeans. He had made
decisions he though best for the United States and
the world, and it was simply unfortunate that
Europeans happened not to agree with him.
Besides, all that was in the past.
So it is. But so too is October 2002, when
Congress voted to surrender to the president its
constitutional duties with regard to declaring war
by "empowering" Bush to use any and all means and,
at a time of his choosing, to compel Saddam
Hussein to give up the weapons of mass destruction
that the world "knew" he possessed. Bush pushed
the button on March 19, 2003, plunging the United
States into a war in Iraq that has taken,
conservatively speaking, 45,000-50,000 Iraqi lives
and killed 2,500 US service members, 226 troops
from other coalition countries, 100 journalists,
and more than 350 contractors. The war has cost
nearly US$400 billion and will generate thousands
of disabled veterans for decades to come.
For a number of weeks, congressional
Republicans and administration spokespersons have
been setting the stage with the same poisonous
"props" of rogue states, terrorism, and weapons of
mass destruction they used in 2002 against Iraq.
Their apparent goal is to convince the public that
Iran, like Iraq, is a menace to its neighbors, to
the United States, and to the world. Some in
the administration have also asserted that the
October 2002 resolution for the use of force
against Iraq was so worded that it remains in
force for any contemplated military action against
Iran. That is, the president can launch a war
without getting further congressional assent.
Which gets us to approximately 7:35pm on
the night of June 20, 2006, in the House of
Representatives, where Democratic Congressman
Maurice Hinchey introduced an amendment to the
2007 Defense Department Appropriations bill. The
amendment reads: "None of the funds made available
in this Act may be used to initiate military
operations against Iran except in accordance with
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the
The amendment should be
superfluous in that it merely reaffirms the
existing constitutional division of powers between
Congress and the president in time of war.
Specifically, except in the event that the United
States is about to be attacked or is attacked - at
which point the president can deploy the armed
forces to counter imminent or actual hostilities -
the president is to request Congress' assent to
make war. This would include any attack on Iran.
In commenting on his amendment, Hinchey affirmed
that its purpose is "to make sure that none of the
funding in this defense appropriations bill is
used to engage in any military operation against
Iran without a full vote of the Congress of the
United States in accordance with the constitution
of the United States".
Congressman Bill Young spoke against the amendment
by reiterating the discredited administration
claim of connections between Saddam Hussein and
al-Qaeda, a claim that was used to induce the
House to approve the October 2002 resolution
296-133. Young was rebutted by Democrat Peter
Defazio, who asked the House to "stand up for" and
reclaim its constitutional powers.
presiding officer then put the amendment to a
"vote" and declared that the "nays" were in the
majority - at which point Hinchey demanded a
Now at 7:50pm, most
members would not normally be in the chamber.
Members would be eating dinner or be at social
gatherings; many of their staffers would be gone
from their offices, quite unaware that starting
after 9pm, additional roll-call votes would be
held. Putting these factors together with the
supposition that many Members were not aware of
the exact language of Hinchey's amendment as they
voted - ie, mistaking the reaffirmation of
Congress' role for an attempt to limit
presidential authority to act to repel an imminent
attack - the combined circumstances defeated the
amendment 158-262, with 12 members (six from each
party) not voting.
In October 2002 the
White House deceived the Congress and the public,
inducing Congress - in the administration's
interpretation - to abandon its constitutional
responsibilities in matters of war-making.
This "fool me once" has inflicted on the
world 39 months of bloody occupation and war in
Now the House has once again, in
effect, abandoned its role in any future decision
about the need for and the wisdom of initiating
war in the name of the people they represent -
creating a vacuum the administration will eagerly
It seems high time that the people
call to account those whose votes against the
amendment - 215 Republicans and 47 Democrats -
expose the nation to a repeat of October 2002 and
its legacy. The United States cannot afford being
"fooled twice" by Congress or the White House.
Nor can the world.
Smith is a military affairs analyst for
Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org),
a retired US Army colonel, and a senior fellow on
military affairs at the Friends Committee on