WASHINGTON -- President Bush told the federal courts yesterday, through his lawyers, to stay out of the Persian Gulf situation because judges have no power and no "competence" to rule on the kind of military threat that exists now or may arise in the Middle East.
Urging a federal judge to leave the gulf crisis largely to the White House to handle, with any support Congress might give, the president's attorneys said a ruling on the legality of U.S. military efforts in the gulf "could do serious damage to U.S. interests."
A judge's review of a case testing the deployment of U.S. forces in the gulf, the attorneys said, "would reinforce Iraq in its view that the United States' political and legal systems render it incapable of mustering and sustaining the resolve of which an authoritarian society such as Iraq is capable."
Iraq, the lawyers said, would conclude that it was in its interest "to play for time and wait for our resolve to dissipate."
Moreover, they argued, Iraq might be encouraged "to take hostile action in the belief that suddenly inflicting U.S. casualties could further weaken domestic support for the presence of United States forces in the gulf."
The pleas were made yesterday evening to U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who is handling an Army National Guardsman's lawsuit seeking to have U.S. actions in the gulf declared to be an "act of war" that is illegal and unconstitutional.
Guard Sgt. Michael Ray Ange of Boone, N.C., was sent to Saudi Arabia on Monday to join his unit, which is already there.
Sergeant Ange's lawsuit is one of two now in the courts testing whether Congress must declare war or otherwise give permission for U.S. military action in the gulf.
The sergeant's lawsuit challenges the legality of what has already been done there by the president. A second lawsuit, filed Tuesday by 45 members of Congress, seeks to bar the president from ordering U.S. forces into actual combat without first getting Congress' explicit permission.
The congressional lawsuit is due for a hearing by another federal judge, District Judge Harold H. Greene, Dec. 4. Judge Lamberth scheduled a hearing on Sergeant Ange's case Dec. 10.
Mr. Bush's attorneys also , besides contending that federal judges have no power in this situation and that they lack the information to second-guess U.S. military efforts in the gulf, told Judge Lamberth that his "intervention . . . could upset the delicate diplomacy" that so far had produced what they called "a worldwide coalition . . . in opposition to Iraq's conduct."