Framed with reference to Iraq's previous sins, the president asks for authority to "restore international peace and security to the region." Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, mindful of what happened when another Congress provided a similar blanket authorization in 1964, seek to pepper the President's proposal with qualifications, beginning by specifying Iraq as the target. What makes their task all the more difficult is the underlying reason for launching an attack on Iraq.
The president calls it "The War on Terrorism," and by doing so, he gives every indication that he views America as the world's largest version of the March of Dimes. This nonprofit group, established to fight polio, was marching along nicely when along came the Salk vaccine and -- bingo! -- the march could end. But it didn't. Instead, this fine organization created a new mission, settling on birth defects. They will not, cannot find a cure for all birth defects. They can make some progress here and there, but it's a mission with no end in sight.
Nicholas Lehman, addressing the problem, wrote in a recent New Yorker article that saying we are engaged in a War on Terrorism instead of a War Against Al Qaeda is the difference between a response and a doctrine. A war against an aggressor like Al Qaeda, holed up as it was in Afghanistan, can give military action that ever-so-important beginning, middle and end, as did the war against polio. A war against terrorism, like all the doctrinal wars before (poverty, drugs, etc.) knows no such definition, or boundaries. Like the war against birth defects, it will never end.
Compounding the problem for the Congress is the administration's recently proposed new international strategy, which arrogantly asserts Pax Americana. Some call them "hawks," but the more accurate term to describe Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz is "radical." Cloaked in their radical new strategy, fueled by a doctrine, they make demands that breed suspicion and worry. Don't they realize that the world will always emulate America, and if we set the standard for unilaterally implementing regime change, what's to stop nuclear power China from seeking regime change in, say, South Korea?
Making things more complicated for these responsible senators from both sides of aisle is the "elephant in the tent" -- that is, the political advantage that Bush and friends are so obviously are seeking from this crisis. The GOP-designated junkyard dog, Mark Racicot, says that those who vote against the president's proposal reveal weak character. Karl Rove, the White House political strategist, has all but acknowledged that the timing of this crisis has more to do with the fall elections and the desire to keep the voters' minds off the terrible economy than with the pace of Iraq's military buildup. And now those Democrats who seek a bipartisan resolution (and even some Republicans) must take note of all the Republican fundraisers that Bush has attended over the past four months. This makes it all the more difficult to believe that now, at such a sensitive time, their president is acting the statesman.
One of the most riveting testimonies given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came from Richard Holbrooke, the highly regarded former U.N. ambassador. He addressed many of these concerns, stating that:
Yes, action should be limited to Iraq;
No, a U.N. resolution isn't mandatory, but it would be preferable;
Yes, the president can commit troops to armed conflict without Congressional approval, but Bush should not do so in this case;
No, Congress should not pass a resolution that gives away oversight.
Holbrooke then strongly chastised the administration for, at this time, revealing its intention to jettison an almost century-old way of handling foreign affairs. He termed the administration's assertion of unilateralism nothing more than macho rhetoric that serves only to "muddy the debate." In point of fact, argues Holbrooke, we can't go it alone. And to those who reduce a war with Iraq to a stroll in the park, he has only disdain. Finally, and of critical importance, he believes it vital that any resolution passed by Congress should include the promise that we won't leave when the smoke has risen; that we don't do to the Iraqis we did to did to the Afghanis and later the Kurds.
To Holbrooke's recommendations, I might add one more about the so-called "War on Terrorism" -- our March of Dimes in military garb. The president should rethink his use of words. Unlike Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein isn't a fanatic; he is a thug. Because of his disregard for the U.N.'s resolutions, he is also an outlaw. If we attack Saddam, it should be because he is an outlaw, not because we are fighting a "War On Outlawism."
Words matter. This "War on Terrorism," as would be the case in a "War on Outlawism," serves only to further muddy the mission, confuse the issues and threaten international stability along the way. It will depend on the Congress to craft careful language so that the President will be authorized to fight a war that can be ended, against a foe that can be identified, for reasons that can be justified.