On September 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York, and on the Pentagon, left our entire nation horrified. Never had we, as a nation, experienced anything like this before. The loss of thousands of lives has touched all of us, and we have yet to completely emerge from our collective grief.
In the days following the attack, Congress responded by passing several pieces of legislation, to respond to the disasters, and mount resources against terrorism. One such piece of legislation was H.J. Res. 64 which ceded Congress's future authority to the President regarding the use of military force in response to the terrorist attacks. It gave the President the authority to move militarily against any individuals, organizations, or countries that he determines to have been associated with the attacks on New York and Washington. It did not obligate the President to report back to Congress after 60 days, as was required by Congress during the Gulf War, regarding the actions taken by our military.
In the House of Representatives, one lone lawmaker resisted the pressure of the moment, and voted no. It was United States Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat from California. For this courageous act, Rep. Lee was ostracized, and she was the recipient of death threats. But Barbara Lee was right. I said so at the time, and it is even more clear to me now.
It has become fashionable in the last several months for Democrats to continue to criticize the Republican Administration on domestic policy, but not to utter a word of dissent regarding the "war on terrorism." It was natural for us all to pull together and unite behind the President right after these attacks. Now that some time has passed, I believe that it is appropriate for us to take back the role of constructive critics on all fronts. We should, of course, give the President credit where credit is due. He has, on many occasions during the past several months, risen to the level of statesman. But he has also on other occasions, including his State of the Union Message, made statements that reveal incredible naivete regarding matters of State and diplomacy. I view his lumping Iran, Iraq, and North Korea together in the context of the war on terrorism to be in this category.
The President has defined the war on terrorism in such a way that it seems it may never end. It is sort of like waging a war on cockroaches. You can certainly manage and control them, and perhaps even totally eradicate them from your own residence. But just as one could never totally eradicate all cockroaches from the country without devastating cost to the environment, it is hard to imagine eradicating all terrorists. As long as there is freedom of thought, there will be terrorists. We can manage the problem through police actions, and we can lessen the appeal of terrorist ideologies by working for world peace and economic justice. We can probably get to the point where we can control terrorism and manage its effects, but it is a dream to think that we can totally eliminate terrorism.
By leaving it to the President to define the "war on terrorism", we have in effect given him open-ended authority to push this war into new arenas, for as long as he determines it to be to his political advantage to do so. Most Americans agree with the President's pursuit of the Taliban, and the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps we should stop there. The President may even have the sense (despite his recent rhetoric) to do so.
But it was a mistake for Congress to give the President the blanket authority to make these decisions. One would think that, as a nation, we would have learned something from the quagmire that was the war in Vietnam. Then, as now, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power, in the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution, to "take all necessary measures" to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In passing this resolution, Congress abandoned its own Constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam. Senator Wayne Morse cast one of two lonely votes against the resolution. This time, in the House of Representatives, it was Barbara Lee who cast the lone principled vote of conscience.
Barbara Lee was right.
Editor's Note: Deborah Vollmer is a Democratic candidate for Congress (Maryland, District 8).
Maintained by Imad-ad-Dean, Inc.