By Sylvia Gurinsky
The War Powers Act was an attempt to prevent future messes like the Vietnam War. But the act was, itself, a mess. It certainly didn't do anything to prevent the ongoing disaster in Iraq.
Two former U.S. secretaries of state, James Baker (President George H.W. Bush Administration) and Warren Christopher (Clinton Administration) headed a yearlong study of what might be done. Here's a link to their column in today's New York Times:
Basically, it requires the president to do what John F. Kennedy did with congressional leaders during the Cuban Missile Crisis - talk to them, and give them specifics. It establishes who in Congress must be consulted and gives them access to full information. The decision to take military action still rests with the Commander-in-Chief.
Of course, it's not necessarily the kind of proposal that would have compelled Sen. Hillary Clinton to read the intelligence reports that then-Sen. Bob Graham of Florida made available before President George W. Bush took action in Iraq. But it could make the decisionmaking process more transparent to the American people, which it should be, and make clear who is making a serious choice and who is covering their political hide (which a lot of senators, including Clinton, apparently did with Iraq).
Consideration of these changes will likely rest with whoever gets elected in November. Baker and Christopher and company have gotten them off to a good start.
A note about the Times article discussing the proposal. This section is disturbing:
"In a Republican presidential debate last October, Senator John McCain, the likely Republican presidential candidate, said he would take military action without going to Congress first, “if the situation is that it requires immediate action to ensure the security of the United States of America.”
“That’s what you take your oath to do when you’re inaugurated as president,” Mr. McCain said. But he also said that he would seek the approval of Congress if there were time to assess the threat and debate possible courses of action."
Excuse me, but I don't remember the presidential oath of office saying that. It does say the president swears or affirms to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." McCain's slip-up does not give comfort to those hoping for a successor who has more respect for the Constitution than Bush has had.