Bush officials: Congress irrelevant on Iraq
By William h. Mcmichael
The Bush administration says the 2002 congressional authorization to go to war in Iraq gives it the authority to conduct combat operations in Iraq and negotiate far-reaching agreements with the current Iraqi government without consulting Congress.
The assertion, jointly made Tuesday by U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long, drew an incredulous reaction from Democrats on a Joint House committee during a hearing on future U.S. commitments to Iraq.
“It's the view of the administration that as long as there’s trouble in Iraq that you have authorization of this Congress to continue there in perpetuity and define trouble as you desire?” asked Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.
“We have authorization to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,” Satterfield replied. “The situation in Iraq continues to present a threat to the United States.”
The Bush administration also feels it does not need to seek the authorization of Congress to ratify two pending agreements with Iraq: a “Strategic Framework” that would govern “normalized” relations with the U.S., and a Status of Forces Agreement that would govern the “authorities and protections” of U.S. troops in Iraq past Dec. 31, the expiration of a U.N. resolution that the administration says authorizes their presence.
The agreements will “not tie the hands of the next president or, indeed, this president,” Satterfield said. “They will ensure that every policy option remains on the table. The size of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the missions to be performed by such forces, if forces are present, are decisions for the president and for the next president to make.”
And the president, the two officials said, can negotiate those agreements with the government of Iraq.
“You don’t intend to submit this particular Status of Forces Agreement with its authority to fight to the Congress for its approval?” asked Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass.
“The secretary of defense has already testified, and I believe Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice has reiterated, that it is our intent and our obligation to coordinate with the members,” Long replied.
“Coordination is a lovely word, and I know consultation and notification are also words that are being used and will be used,” Delahunt said. “But I used the word, authorization,’ ” Delahunt said. “It’s the position of this administration that they do not need to come before Congress to receive authorization?
“That’s correct,” Long said.
“That’s correct,” Satterfield echoed.
During a combative exchange with Ackerman, Satterfield sought to allay the fears of critics who say the administration is trying to position itself to lock in a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.
“The framework and the Status of Forces Agreement will not include a binding commitment to defend Iraq or any other security commitments that would warrant Senate advice and consent,” Satterfield said. “I wish to be clear: They will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, nor will they specify in any fashion the number of American forces to be stationed there. Congress will be consulted throughout the process.”
But Ackerman pointed out that if language in the November 2007 U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles is adopted, it would give U.S. troops in Iraq the authority to defend Iraq against an attack — which he said amounts to a license to wage war.
The principles, Ackerman pointed out, state that the U.S. and Iraq “intend to negotiate agreements” in which the U.S. would “provide security assurances to the Iraqi Government to deter any external aggression and to ensure the integrity of Iraq's territory.”
Satterfield said the Strategic Framework will not include any such commitment. At the same time, he said, “As would be the case of an attack on any friend and partner of the United States, the administration would have to consider, in consultation with the Congress, what would be the best measures to take in defense of United States’ interests in such an eventuality.”
“If Iraq is attacked, are you stating uncategorically that the administration will take no action?” Ackerman said.
“I can only state that the administration is responsible for the defense of the interests of the United States,” Satterfield said. “It will act in accordance with those interests, but I cannot and will not speculate on hypotheticals.”
The president cannot make an international agreement that exceeds his own constitutional authority, said Oona Hathaway, an associate professor of law at Yale University who took part in a follow-on panel. “If he acts in absence of a congressional grant, he can only rely on his own independent constitutional powers,” she said.
A typical SOFA is negotiated by the president, she noted. But anything that includes an authority to fight, as this proposal appears to do, she said, “Becomes an agreement that really must be submitted to Congress for approval either as a treaty or as a congressional-executive agreement.”