Cuomo Scolds Congress - You Can't Give Away War Powers
By James Donahue
Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo scolded both Houses of Congress last week for approving legislation
designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a "foreign terrorist organization."
During an appearance on MSMBC's Hardball Show with Chris Matthews, Cuomo said his concern is that
Congress may again skirt its Constitutional responsbility and give President Bush the authority to start another illegal war.
Although the bill introduced by Republican Jon Kyl and Independent Joseph Lieberman was declared "non-binding,"
Cuomo suggested that it may have been enough to give Bush a green light for a planned bombing attack on Iran.
During a debate in mid-week, Democratic presidential candidates explained that they believed the resolution
merely allows for economic sanctions against Iran. But critics say that putting Iran's elite guard on the terrorist "black
list" with Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah is literally a declaration of war, since the Bush Administration is claiming to be conducting
a "war on terrorism."
The U.S. government has already escalated financial sanctions against Tehran this year after claiming
that Iran is assisting terrorist attacks in Iraq. The Bush Administration also accuses Iran of attempting to use construction
of a nuclear power plant as a cover for enrichment of uranium and the attempted development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies
Cuomo said that during the founding of our country the authors of the U.S. Constitution carefully
debated just who should have the authority to declare war against another nation. He said George Washington argued strongly
against giving this authority to the president, or any single individual, because he said such a decision would bear too much
gravity. The decision was made that Congress alone would have this power.
Thus Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, sometimes called the "War Powers Clause,"
gives Congress the exclusive power to declare war. The president does not, and should not have such power.
Only five wars have ever been declared in American history. These were the War of 1812, the Mexican-American
War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
The other wars, all of the disasterous in nature, included the American Civil War, the Korean War,
the Vietnam War, our adventures in Panama, Lebanon and Afganistan, and the Iraq Wars.
President Abraham Lincoln ordered an attack by Union Forces at Fort Sumpter while Congress was not
in session, thus launching the first shots of the Civil War.
When President Truman sent American forces into Korea, he argued that it was a "police action" and
that he was acting under constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces. That Truman got away with it
prompted America's involvement in Vietnam under the Eisenhower Administration. Both wars ended without the United States achieving
In 1973 Congress passed the War Powers Resolution requiring the president to obtain either a declaration
of war or a resolution authorizing the use of force by Congress within 60 days of initiating hostilities. The act has never
been tested before the Supreme Court so its constitutionality remains unsettled. Congress passed such a resolution prior to
the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Cuomo pointed out that some legal scholars argue that all military action taken without a Congressional
declaration of war is unconstitutional. He charged that since World War II, Congress appears to have lacked the spine to take
on the responsibilities of declaring war, and has preferred to leave such decisions entirely up to the president.
And that, Cuomo said, is what got us into the mess we now face in Iraq.