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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheney Bangs Drum on Iraq

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With U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's forceful address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday, the Bush administration is pumping up its talk of war against Iraq. In making a major speech rather than simply responding to questions and answers, Cheney offered the first comprehensive case for war that any senior official has offered.

But if the administration believes that it can take such a fateful step without asking Congress for authorization, as several anonymous senior officials have recently indicated, it should think again. When it comes to launching a major war and the uncertainties that entails, a public debate and a Capitol Hill resolution are not frivolous luxuries but the essence of American democracy.

It now appears that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales is close to concluding that the president need not receive formal approval from Congress. The idea is that 1991's Persian Gulf War congressional resolution authorizing military action is still operative. That resolution was tied to conditions set forth in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq allow weapons inspections; Iraq has refused to comply fully.

These arguments may be legalistically correct, but they aren't politically astute. Many presidents have tussled with Congress over matters of war and peace. The 1973 War Powers Act specifies that the president can use military force for 60 to 90 days, after which Congress is supposed to weigh in on any further actions. The act is unwieldy, but the reason it was created should serve as a lesson for the administration. Congress was determined to ensure that the United States would never slide into another Vietnam. Future presidents were supposed to earn public assent before entering into combat.

The first President Bush did that in January 1991 before the Gulf War, even though he claimed that he wasn't dependent on congressional approval. The current President Bush should heed his father's example by getting Congress on record and explaining to the public the reasons for war. Of course, Congress might not be persuaded, and evidently that is what the administration fears.

As the Bush administration carries out the shadowy war against terrorism, it must maintain a delicate balance in the volatile Middle East region. It cannot coddle extremists, nor can it alienate moderates. But a full-scale assault aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein still reeks of a plan designed to prove the administration's potency.

As the prolonged struggle in Afghanistan suggests, the likelihood is that the United States, which has yet to produce credible Iraqi opposition leaders, would be stuck in Iraq for years, even if Saddam were successfully overthrown. An operation of this magnitude should not be carried out by a president without assent from Congress.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.