Miller Center war powers group splits the difference

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The Miller Center’s national profile rose a little more last week when the National War Powers Commission, convened by the public affairs research center at UVA in February 2007, released its recommendations on July 8. The conclusion of the all-star group? Repeal the War Powers Resolution of 1973. It has failed to promote cooperation between the federal and executive branches of government, said the 10-member panel, helmed by former secretaries of state (and former legal rivals) James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher. Instead, Congress should pass a new statute—the War Powers Consultation Act of 2009—that would establish a clear process on decisions to go to war.

Specifically, the War Powers Act of 2009 would mandate that the president consult with Congress before deploying U.S. troops into “significant armed conflict,” define exactly what would be considered “significant armed conflicts,” and calls on Congress to vote up or down on significant armed conflicts within 30 days.

“What we aim to do with this statute is to create a process that will encourage the two branches to cooperate and consult in a way that is both practical and true to the spirit of the Constitution,” said Baker, who also co-chaired the 2006 Iraq Study Group. That group, whose immediate and practical suggestions were ignored by the Bush administration, called for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Criticism of the War Powers Commission suggestions came swiftly from all directions. “As might be expected of two prominent leaders of the Council on Foreign Relations, an overly influential ‘think tank’ that consistently favors internationalism and legal innovation over national sovereignty and the Constitution, [Baker and Christopher] sidestepped the Constitution’s clear delegation of power to Congress alone to ‘declare war,’” said the John Birch Society on its website.

In an opinion piece for the Boston Globe, Charles A. Stevenson said, “The commission calls the 1973 law ‘impractical and ineffective.’ That’s half right. It has been ineffective because no president has accepted its validity and several spineless Congresses have failed to assert their rights with votes instead of chest-thumping speeches. It is no less practical than the commission’s mushy alternative.”

The bi-partisan commission was apparently unwilling to comment directly on the Iraq War. The Washington Post has Christopher deflecting questions on the current conflict, saying the commission had “tried very hard not to call balls and strikes on past history here.”—with reporting by Jayson Whitehead

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