Campbell Issues War Ultimatum
By Guy Gugliotta
"If Congress does not stand up for its constitutional right to declare war in this instance, there is nothing left to the constitutional requirement that Congress and only Congress declare war," Campbell told reporters yesterday.
Congress has not formally declared war since 1941, but presidents have put troops in harm's way numerous times since then. There is usually someone to take the White House to task when this occurs, and the current crusader is Campbell, 46, a Stanford law professor and Silicon Valley moderate whose protestations of principle have frequently left him as one of Congress's odd men out.
Under the 1973 War Powers Act, Campbell has the ability to get his colleagues to vote on a resolution declaring war by May 3, and on a resolution withdrawing troops by May 1. Campbell said yesterday that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has promised him a vote on both of his resolutions by the end of April.
"If the House has not acted, I will be an exceptionally disappointed individual," Campbell said. "I'll feel misled."
Campbell is used to putting his own leadership on the spot; he was one of a handful of Republicans in 1997 who refused to vote for Newt Gingrich (Ga.) as speaker of the House, citing Gingrich's ethics problems.
Colleagues were not happy with Campbell then (Gingrich did not publicly register his feelings), and will probably not be happy with him now. Despite constant rhetorical carping about principles, lawmakers hate making stark choices. As Campbell puts it, they would rather have the president go first on dangerous military missions -- so they can kibitz afterward:
"It is a lot easier politically," Campbell said. "If it works out okay, you were with him, and if it doesn't, you saw it coming."
But "that is unacceptable," Campbell added. The Founding Fathers gave Congress the power to declare war, and Congress must take its medicine, no matter how bad it tastes, he says.
"I have not had an opportunity to sit down and talk to Tom about this," Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) said yesterday. "You know, Tom is a man who thinks things through. He is very bright, and he is a man of what seems oftentimes to be unbending resolve once he sets himself on course."
This diplomatic assessment means that Armey will probably try to induce Campbell to withdraw his resolutions through the exercise of sweet reason. Failing that, he can pray that Campbell's intentions will be mooted by an early victory in Yugoslavia. And failing that, the rules say Campbell will get his votes.
The question of the president's ability to prosecute military action without congressional authorization has come up regularly -- and often vitriolically -- since President Lyndon B. Johnson used the much-maligned Tonkin Gulf Resolution as a blank check for the Vietnam War.
Congressional action since then has taken many forms, from the Boland Amendment cutting off covert funding to the contra rebels in Central America during the 1980s to the formal authorization by both houses in 1991 allowing the use of ground troops in the Persian Gulf War.
Last year the House passed a simple resolution supporting the troops on the day U.S. aircraft bombed Iraq. And before the Kosovo intervention, the House approved the use of U.S. peacekeepers, while the Senate authorized airstrikes.
Hofstra University law professor Peter Spiro, a former attorney for the National Security Council, suggests this regular weighing-in by Congress has the salutary effect of "keeping a leash on the president" and "keeping Congress involved in the decisions."
A declaration of war "doesn't allow for a measured deployment in Serbia or for continuing congressional participation in the process," Spiro cautioned. "Asking for an up-or-down vote, then letting the president take it from there is more like Tonkin Gulf."
But that is not what the Constitution calls for. Campbell said he is against declaring war, and in favor of withdrawing the troops, but where he stands is not important. What is important, he said, is that Congress take a stand.
Still, he conceded that the likeliest outcome of his resolutions is that colleagues will choose no-decision and vote against both, in which case he will go to court to demand that the president comply with the Constitution -- which in his view means withdrawing U.S. forces from the Balkans for lack of congressional authorization.
"The Supreme Court has not ruled on this subject," Campbell said. "It is my hope that the Supreme Court will also do its duty."
Campbell intends to do his.
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