February 15, 2007

Parsing Pelosi

Hatched by Dafydd

Here is today's lesson in political rhetoric. Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) is quoted by MyWay News as making the following constitutional analysis in an interview "down the hall from the House chamber":

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that President Bush lacks the authority to invade Iran without specific approval from Congress, a fresh challenge to the commander in chief on the eve of a symbolic vote critical of his troop buildup in Iraq.

Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that Bush consistently said he supports a diplomatic resolution to differences with Iran "and I take him at his word."

At the same time, she said, "I do believe that Congress should assert itself, though, and make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president, any president, to go into Iran."

All right... but what does "go into Iran" mean? It's certainly not a legal term, and neither is "invade," the characterization used by MyWay: We say "you're invading my space" and "the Mexican invasion" to mean actions other than a literal army invading enemy territory.

Several interesting points about Ms. Pelosi's maunderings:

  • Of course President Bush -- and President Clinton, and every other president past and yet to come -- has the "authority" to order our military to "invade" another country without prior congressional approval; we know this because a great many of them have done so without being impeached or losing any court fights over it.

The speaker ought to do some reading instead. The 1973 War Powers Resolution addresses the very question she pronounces upon:

The War Powers Resolution (P.L. 93-148) was passed over the veto of President Nixon on November 7, 1973, to provide procedures for Congress and the President to participate in decisions to send U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities. Section 4(a)(1) requires the President to report to Congress any introduction of U.S. forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities. When such a report is submitted, or is required to be submitted, section 5(b) requires that the use of forces must be terminated within 60 to 90 days unless Congress authorizes such use or extends the time period. Section 3 requires that the "President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing" U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities.

Thus, even if the War Powers Resolution is itself constitutional, the president can do pretty much anything he wants without congressional approval, so long as he reports to Congress within 60 days and so long as he is finished within 90 days. (It's unclear -- I doubt it has ever been tested in court, as much of the War Powers Resolution has not -- whether the president can continue for 60-90 days if Congress explicitly votes against a particular military action within that timeframe... presumably overriding the president's veto.)

And of course, if the War Powers Resolution is held by the Court to be unconstitutional, then there is no legal limitation at all on the power of the president to send troops into any hostilities he chooses.

  • Speaker Pelosi is remarkably selective in her pacifist outrage.

She was first elected in 1987, so she was certainly in Congress in 1999, when Clinton sent U.S. ground troops into then Yugoslavia, right into the middle of the four-part civil war in Bosnia. Honestly, I do not recall her taking to the airwaves and newspapers to argue that he had no such authority. In fact, she supported the war, and she led the fight for it when it finally reached Congress (long after we'd already invaded).

So despite saying "any president," she clearly does not mean exactly that. But does she actually believe that only Republican presidents lack this authority? Or is her analysis specific to Bush himself?

The answer appears to be the former, because she made the same "illegal" argument against Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, when he created and sent a coalition of forces into Kuwait -- also without prior congressional approval:

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Pelosi adamantly opposed military action, lamenting that George H.W. Bush was "resorting to militarization in order to solve a conflict." The war, she said, was an "ill-conceived policy of violence;" Bush, she argued, was acting "illegally."

Thus, Ms. Pelosi begins to come into focus: she believes that Republican presidents lack authority to start wars, but Democratic presidents must act strongly in times of great danger. (Say, I used to play this game, Conjugation, in junior high: "I am steadfast, you are stubborn, he-she-it is a recalcitrant jackass.")

  • Finally, I find her words to be uncharacteristically carefully parsed; she sounds almost Clintonian, in fact.

Consider what she said and did not say: She said he did not have authority to "go into Iran." But what about merely attacking Iran -- say by air and missile bombardment? Does that count?

Why didn't she simply use the more common phrase "attack Iran?" That would have made clear that she claims he has no power to initiated any hostilities at all, of any kind, without prior congressional approval.

But that would also be legal nonsense that would be tossed out of court. In fact, even the lawsuit against Clinton's Bosnian adventure filed by Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA, 100%) lost in court; the courts have been remarkably (but properly) reluctant to declare any military action to be in violation of the Constitution. While I think it was foolish for President Clinton to engage us in that war, it certainly was not unconstitutional; he was the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, he has wide latitude in how he can use them.

But Pelosi made a point of restricting her pronouncement to "go[ing] into Iran," which even MyWay interpolated as "invad[ing] Iran." Surely the most obvious way to interpret that is as an actual land-invasion by our armed forces of Iran, à la what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But who in the administration is talking about that? I haven't even seen anyone go so far as to agree with me that we should implement the Herman Option... which involves only aerial attacks on Iran (no "invasion") -- plus the seizure of offshore oil facilities, many of which are arguably in international waters.

Even more puzzling: Who is Nancy Pelosi arguing with? In the only two instances in the Bush Administration's six-year history where we actually did send the Army and Marine Corps rolling into a sovereign nation -- Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 -- the Bush administration sought and received prior congressional approval. Evidently, in that respect, George Bush agrees with Nancy Pelosi (as a matter of good form, if not as a matter of law). He demonstrated that agreement in practice.

So Speaker Pelosi pointedly used a term that seemingly applied only to a situation nobody is proposing; she avoided using a more general term; she avoided claiming that Bush disagreed with her analysis. This careful parsing allows her to look really, really tough and manly, while avoiding saying anything that might lead to a debate -- which Ms. Pelosi would lose, either in court or on a congressional vote (note that "Congress" is not synonymous with "the House of Representatives").

Has this sort of tendentious and absurdly precise parsing of language become endemic within the Democratic Party since 1992? Is the ability to split hairpieces about "what the meaning of 'is' is" now formally required in order to achieve leadership position in Congress?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 15, 2007, at the time of 5:19 PM

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The following hissed in response by: sharinlite


Pelosi is part of that crop of females that have gotten power in all areas. Boy, are they showing just exactly what having a female in power means: judges that let child abusers off with light sentences, mayors, councilmembers, congresswomen, senators, journalists a.k.a.Dowd and bloggers like Marcotte and McEwen.

It is simple: women don't act this way, females do. And there are actually people in this country ready to put Hillary into office.

Not that the males are any better, but there is nothing as mean and nasty as a female in heat.

The above hissed in response by: sharinlite [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 15, 2007 5:42 PM

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