Counting down

January 10, 1991

With diplomatic initiatives to bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Persian Gulf now largely in shambles, Congress today formally begins a debate over whether to go to war. As the countdown to war begins, the choices facing lawmakers are these: (1) Give President Bush a blank check to do anything he pleases, (2) give him nothing or (3) adopt a resolution which lies somewhere in between. Given those bad choices, we hope Congress, and the Maryland delegation, will opt for the last choice.

Unfortunately, what should be the issue in the debate -- the total commitment of American prestige and resources to war which President Bush recklessly made within hours after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 -- can now be debated only by historians. This is the most troubling aspect of this debate -- the argument, made with characteristic rhetorical trickery by former President Nixon in an article on our Other Voices page yesterday, that once a president commits the nation, the debate is over. There is a diabolical circularity to such reasoning, and it should be rejected. To do less would be a total abdication of Congress' constitutional power and obligation to declare war.

The war machine is on the move, but it is not too late for Congress to say: Halt, if only long enough to give collective world economic pressure a chance to bring Iraq to its knees; if that doesn't work after a reasonable trial, then we can think further about the fateful decision to go to war.

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