Congress and War

CONGRESS AND WAR….James Baker and Warren Christopher have proposed a new piece of legislation that would replace the War Powers Act and clarify Congress’s role in declaring war. David Broder approves because this would “signal a healthy change toward bipartisanship in foreign policy.”

Maybe. But my first thought when I read about the Baker/Christopher proposal was that the only thing bipartisan about it was that no one in either party would want to touch it with a ten foot pole. Congress, I figured, doesn’t want war declaring power. They’d rather pass the buck and then complain about it later. In Slate today, Timothy Noah confirms my skepticism:

There’s only one problem. Congress doesn’t want to streamline its role in declaring war, because, for all its bluster (not to mention its constitutional responsibility), Congress doesn’t want to be held politically accountable for the results. I first became aware of this phenomenon 21 summers ago while covering a House debate on the use of Navy convoys to escort 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Persian Gulf.

….What amazed and shocked me, and moved me to write up the debate for the New Republic, was the unembarrassed manner in which members of Congress declared as their paramount interest the absence of any legislative fingerprints on whatever might result from allowing (or not allowing) the Navy convoys to enter an area of violent conflict. In fact, it was pretty much taken as a given that the War Powers Resolution would not be invoked, not because the president was not complying with it (no president ever has) but because doing so would require Congress to either approve or revoke Reagan’s decision.

This is pretty much standard congressional MO, so it doesn’t surprise me. If members of Congress could get away with never voting on anything, they’d probably do it.