President Bush’s reaction to the Iraqi parliament’s rejection of the newly enacted UN resolution authorizing renewed inspections in Iraq provides a fascinating insight into the direction in which our own nation is headed. According to the New York Times, President Bush said, “The Iraqi Parliament is nothing but a rubber stamp for Saddam Hussein. This guy’s a dictator, so we’ll have to wait and see what he says.”
But wait a minute! Hasn’t it always been President Bush’s position that he — and he alone — decides whether the United States goes to war against Iraq? Isn’t it he who said that while he would like to have the support of Congress, he would make the ultimate decision on whether to go to war regardless of what Congress decided?
As Sheldon Richman put it, “President Bush dismissed the Iraqi parliament’s deliberation on and rejection of the UN arms-inspections resolution as ‘political theater.’ That’s funny coming from a man who declared that he has the power to launch an unprovoked military attack on Iraq no matter what Congress says.”
If possessing the omnipotent power to decide whether his nation goes to war is part of what makes Saddam Hussein a dictator, what does that say about President Bush, who claims the exact same power as the Iraqi president? Is there really much difference in principle whether a dictatorial power is exercised by a self-appointed ruler or an elected one? Isn’t the real point that the rulers of the United States and Iraq exercise the same omnipotent and dictatorial power to send their respective nations into war?
It’s important to note that our Founders rejected the Bush-Saddam view that the power to declare war should be vested in the executive. Instead, with our Constitution the Founders placed the power to declare war in the legislative branch of the government — the Congress. Thus the supreme law of the land — the law that controls the actions of public officials — prohibits the president from waging war without an express declaration of war from Congress. And it also implicitly prohibits the Congress from delegating its power to declare war to the president (which renders the recent pre-election congressional resolution authorizing the president himself to declare war against Iraq a nullity).
The Founders also provided a process by which the Constitution could be changed whenever the people concluded that a change was needed. That process involves the approval of amendments to our Constitution by 3/4 of the states. In fact, there have been 27 amendments to our Constitution since its inception.
Compare that process of constitutional change to the one in Pakistan, which is ruled by another dictator, an army general who ousted the democratically elected president and appointed himself ruler. He claims the power to unilaterally amend the Pakistani constitution whenever he wants in order to provide himself with more power. President Bush, for his part, doesn’t go that far but he does effectively hold that he has the power to ignore constitutional restraints that he feels are either out-of-date or that have been regularly violated, such as the declaration-of-war provision, thereby enabling him to circumvent the amendment process provided in the Constitution itself.
President Bush should exercise caution before hastily criticizing the omnipotent powers of foreign dictators. After all, people just might start asking some uncomfortable questions about the powers that he’s exercising and the method by which he is usurping them.