Early Friday morning, the U.S. Senate completed congressional authorization of the use of force in Iraq under the War Powers Act. If President Bush decides to invade that country, no legal barrier now stands in his way.
Given the gravity of this step, you'd think senators would be psychologically and morally prepared for war. But they aren't. Many of them, if not most, voted for the war resolution on the theory that by appearing to be prepared for war, they might avoid it.
In his Monday night speech urging Congress to pass the resolution, Bush encouraged this idea. "Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable," he said. "The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something. Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq: that … his only choice is full compliance, and the time remaining for that choice is limited."
All week, Republican senators quoted that paragraph to persuade their colleagues that a vote for the resolution wasn't a vote for war. And Democrats bought it. "The best chance to remove the weapons, without coming to war, is to present [Saddam Hussein] with a credible ultimatum," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. "My main reason for supporting the resolution is that I believe the chances of avoiding war with Iraq are enhanced substantially if this country is united," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "The best way to achieve peace is to prepare for war," added Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. "We are marshaling [our] strength before the United Nations, before the world community and directly to Saddam Hussein, hoping the message will get through and he will disarm without requiring the U.N., or an international coalition led by the United States, to disarm him. That is our hope."
What if that hope proves false? Are Democrats ready for war? Evidently not. Explaining his vote for the resolution, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he would support multilateral military action only "if we ever exhaust [diplomatic] options." Kerry said he wouldn't support unilateral war unless a "multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances." Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters, "Regardless of how one may have voted on the resolution last night, I think there is an overwhelming consensus … that while [war] may be necessary, we're not there yet."
Avoid. If. Ever. Not there yet. These senators sound like a man who has just enjoyed a night of pleasure with a woman he took home from a bar, never fully preparing himself for the possibility of fatherhood. If the woman shows up on his doorstep pregnant, he'll berate her for misleading him or not being careful enough about birth control. Didn't the president promise to exhaust diplomatic options? Didn't he promise not to go to war unilaterally unless multilateral action wasn't "possible under any circumstances"?
No, he didn't. The resolution authorizes Bush "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." It includes a long list of such resolutions. It stipulates that before or shortly after attacking Iraq, Bush must send Congress his "determination" that (1) peaceful alternatives "will not adequately protect [U.S.] national security" and (2) his use of force is "consistent" with the war on terror. But these determinations, including the definitions of "adequately" and "consistent," are solely up to him.
Any man who inseminates a woman has signed up for the responsibilities of fatherhood. Any member of Congress who voted for the Iraq resolution has signed up for the responsibilities of war. Many senators seem to think that if Saddam calls our bluff, and the Security Council offers a watered-down resolution, and Bush says that isn't good enough, and the U.S. Air Force takes off for Iraq, they're entitled to some further say in the matter. They aren't. They had their chance to say no. They said yes. It's their baby now.