We have a president who does just about whatever he wants, the Constitution be damned. He has, among other things, asserted unchecked unilateral power, conducted surveillance on American citizens in violation of federal law, and ignored universal prohibitions on torture. And although years from now historians may refer to the "Bush Doctrine" in much the same way that they talk about the Monroe or Truman doctrines, they will most likely not hold it in the same esteem.
President James Monroe, faced with the possible threat of Europe colonizing countries in the Western Hemisphere, declared the U.S. the protector of independent nations in the Americas. Following the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman issued a policy of foreign aid intended to challenge Soviet ambitions throughout the world.
However, unlike the attempts of Bush's predecessors to serve American interests by defending or aiding foreign interests, Bush's so-called "preemptive military action" doctrine employs the very opposite strategy. It suggests that whatever foreign nation does not stand with the U.S. must, by default, stand against us.
The critical corollary to this doctrine insists that Bush, acting in preemptive self-defense of his country, has a right to use force - that is, declare war - on a potentially aggressive foreign nation. For the present time, Iran seems to fit the bill. In fact, war with Iran may be imminent. As security analyst Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, recently wrote: "There is considerable speculation and buzz in Washington today suggesting that the National Security Council has agreed in principle to proceed with plans to attack an Iranian al-Qods-run camp that is believed to be training Iraqi militants."
But does President Bush have the authority to unilaterally declare war against a foreign nation without the approval of Congress? Not according to our founding fathers.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution, distrustful of the British king's power to declare war and raise fleets and armies, intended to ensure that Congress alone should have the power to initiate military action against other nations, while at the same time making the president commander-in-chief. As James Madison opined, "Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded." Thus Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress - not the president - the power to declare war. However, the Constitution does grant the president the authority to act without the approval of Congress, but only when it is in self-defense.
Attempts have been made over time to weaken or redefine the Constitution's definitive statement of who can and cannot make a declaration of war. For example, in 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which gives a president the authority to wage war abroad for 60 days without congressional approval. It is questionable whether this act, if challenged, would hold up to constitutional muster.
The Bush Doctrine of preemptive military action, at least as applied to Iran, is exactly the type of military action the framers intended to be the decision of Congress, not the president. Even though Iran might be developing nuclear weapons at the present time (several other world powers share this distinction, including the U.S., China, India, Israel, Russia, and the U.K.), there is no indication that Iran poses an immediate threat to the U.S., let alone a threat greater than that presented by any other rogue nation.
Yet apparently the Bush administration has plans to conduct preemptive military action against Iran. This has raised serious concerns in Congress. As House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) wrote in a letter to Bush on May 8: "Our concerns in this area have been heightened by more recent events. The resignation in mid-March of Admiral William J. 'Fox' Fallon from the head of U.S. Central Command, which was reportedly linked to a magazine article that portrayed him as the only person who might stop your administration from waging preemptive war against Iran, has renewed widespread concerns that your administration is unilaterally planning for military action against that country. This is despite the fact that the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, a stark reversal of previous administration assessments."
Certainly, the framers never intended that a president, acting independent of Congress, have the power to wage war against another country merely on the basis of a potential threat. The framers did not believe in entrusting "a single man" with the decision to commit troops and finances to war, which would, in essence, be a dictatorship. The framers left the war-making decision to the "deliberative process in Congress." In this way, nothing but a clear national interest can draw us into war.
As the past has clearly shown, when we wage undeclared war - as we did in Vietnam and now in Iraq - we can be assured that the result will be immeasurable loss, regret, and a nation divided. And for Bush to ignore the rule of law under which this nation operates is to ignore our Constitution.
The duty of the president of the United States of America is not to carry out his own objectives but to lead and serve the American people while upholding the Constitution. To act otherwise - especially in matters of war - is an impeachable offense under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution. As Senator Joseph Biden (D-Deleware) has said: "The president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach him."
And as Conyers wrote in his May 8 letter to Bush: "We agree with Senator Biden, and it is our view that if you do not obtain the constitutionally required congressional authorization before launching preemptive military strikes against Iran or any other nation, impeachment proceedings should be pursued."
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book, The Change Manifesto, will be released in August. He can be contacted at (firstname.lastname@example.org). Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at (http://www.rutherford.org).