Everybody but Congress is in line to declare war

Mike Royko

November 23, 1990|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

AS A DECENT, red-blooded American," Slats Grobnik said, "it's my patriotic duty to bad-mouth Congress, ain't it?"

Of course. It's also fun and helps relieve one's hostilities.

"So I slam my fist on the newspaper and yell about how they throw my money around like playboys, screw up the S&Ls and run political campaigns with as much class as a couple in an alimony fight."

Yes, you do fulfill your civic obligations.

"But as mad as I get, the law says we got to have a Congress, don't it?"

Of course. Our Constitution requires it. The very foundation of our system of government. Three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Of course, there's also a fourth branch, made up of Ted Koppel, George Will and Dan Rather, but it hasn't been ratified yet.

"Yeah, so as teed off as I can get at Congress, the Constitution says there's stuff only Congress can do, right? Even the president can't put the squelch on 'em."

That's right. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, recognized that if we're to be free men, women and any combination of the two, we couldn't let all the power rest in any one set of paws.

"So when there's a war, it's Congress' job to declare the war, right?"

Right. Only Congress has that power. The Founding Fathers were concerned that some would-be tyrant might go off half-cocked, so they thought it safer to let the representatives of the people decide if the people should have to get shot up.

"OK, then how come George Bush is out there trying to play General Patton?"

I don't understand the question.

"I'm talking about us being over there in the sand dunes getting revved up for war with Iraq, and Congress is sitting around like a bunch of gawkers in the cheap seats. If we're getting into a war, how come Congress ain't got nothing to say about it."

Ah, but we haven't gone to war yet. So there isn't any war for Congress to declare.

L "But shouldn't they at least get together to talk about it?"

No, Bush would rather they didn't because some of them might '' start asking exactly what we're going to fight about. Is it to achieve the lofty goal of keeping Japan and Europe in oil? Is it the right of wealthy Kuwaitis -- and there aren't any poor ones -- to enslave their immigrant domestic help? Is it to prove to the American people that Bush, despite his lean frame, has bulging biceps? No, Congress might jabber about such matters and just confuse the American people.

"But lots of Americans are already confused."

Then they might stop being confused, which could be even worse. Besides, Bush has called in congressional leaders and told them: "Be happy, don't worry, if anything important comes up, I'll let you know."

"I get it. He's playing the old eyeball-to-eyeball game with Saddam Hussein. But if he thinks we should go to war, then he calls Congress and they decide if they should declare it."

No, that's not necessarily so.

"Why not? If the Constitution says only Congress can declare war, there ain't no way he can start us shooting without Congress giving the OK, right?"

Yes, if you are a strict believer in the Constitution, that's the way it should be. But there are loopholes.

"Like what?"

Like our not really having a declared war. We could have a United Nations action.

"Who decides that?"

The approval could come from the U.N. Security Council.

"Who are they?"

The major powers. China, for example.

"China? That bunch of mean old commie geezers? Listen, some of those guys were trying to bump me off when I was a kid in Korea."

Let us not hold grudges and dwell on the past. We now have cordial relations with China.

"Yeah, I know. We want to sell them Big Macs. And who else at the U.N. gives the go-ahead?"

There's also the Soviet Union.

"Oh, great, another one of my favorite countries. I spent most of my life wondering if some beady-eyed guy in a baggy suit and a fur hat was going to nuke me."

Let bygones be bygones, we're now buddies.

"Maybe you are, but I'll never trust a country that won the Olympics with women who have more arm hair than King Kong."

Wait, we also have old friends on the Security Council. England and France, for example.

"Sure, but I don't notice France with any 100,000 troops in the desert. What's France doing -- sending cookbooks and pepper grinders?"

The point is, the leading nations of the world have joined together to disapprove of naked aggression.

"Yeah, except when they're the ones who get naked and aggressive. So if the Security Council says we can blast Iraq, Bush can do it?"


"But it's going to be us doing it?"

Yes, but we do have many military allies at the moment.

"Yeah, they'll pitch in by staying back at the ranch and taking care of the camels. So it's going to be us doing the fighting and dying, right?"

Essentially, yes.

"And if the U.N. Security Council says start shooting, Bush don't have to ask Congress?"

Yes that's the loophole.

"So he don't have to ask our own Congress. We get marching orders from the Chinese and Rooskies?"

In a sense, that's true.

"You know, I ain't no historian. But I got a feeling that ain't the way Washington and Jefferson and Franklin and all those other guys in gray wigs had it pegged."

Ah, but these are modern times, a fast-paced world. And some of the Founding Fathers were, by today's standards, kind of old-fashioned.

"Then you know what I think?"


"I think George Bush might start wearing one of those gray wigs. Might help his thinking."

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