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August 27, 2002

War in Iraq, War on the Rule of Law


by Rep. Ron Paul

The chorus of voices calling for the United States to attack Iraq grows louder. Recent weeks had seen growing controversy concerning the wisdom of such an attack, including controversy over the need for congressional approval for an invasion. The war hawk TV pundits have been busy working to quell the controversy by insisting the President has complete authority to wage war without congressional involvement.

The crux of their remarks is that we should not question whether the U.S. will go to war with Iraq, but only how and when the war should waged.

Yet whether to invade Iraq is precisely the question, and only Congress can answer it. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to declare war. The President cannot wage war legally without a congressional declaration. His status as commander-in-chief gives him authority only to execute war, not initiate it. The law in Article I, section 8, is quite clear. The undeclared wars of the 20th century may provide precedent for unilateral action by the President, but it is an illegal precedent.

It appears that most in Congress would support an invasion of Iraq, so why can’t we simply agree to follow the Constitution and vote to declare war?

The rule of law separates civilized societies from despotic societies. Unlike Iraq, the United States is a nation of laws, not men. We are blessed to live under the Constitution, rather than under a King or dictator. Yet if we blatantly violate the Constitution by pursuing an undeclared war, we violate the rule of law. We invite the President, and future Presidents, to act in an imperial manner. We damage the separation of powers that is so critical to our freedom. We act more like Iraq than the United States of America when we ignore the Constitution.

I’m puzzled that Congress is so willing to give away one of its most important powers. Why do members of Congress from both parties, most of whom work incessantly to INCREASE the scope of congressional powers, suddenly refuse to wield power in one area where they have legitimate legislative authority? It mostly has to do with cowardice and politics. You can bet Republicans would be demanding congressional involvement if Clinton was in office.

The solution is simple. Follow the Constitution, debate the wisdom of a war in Iraq, and publicly record a vote on a declaration of war. Let Congress do its job. The young men and women who will be called upon to fight for the Constitution in Iraq deserve to see it followed at home.


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    Ron Paul is a Republican Congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President.

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