Rutgers-Camden holds war powers symposium
The Rutgers Law School (Camden), in conjunction with its Journal of Law and Public Policy, held an interesting symposium on Presidential powers in wartime today, the guests including our own Professors Roger Clark and Dennis Patterson and our local Congressman, Rob Andrews, whose wife happens to be our Dean of Admissions. The pizza having run out--and my being a diabetic, in any case--I had to leave somewhat early, but I think I got the general drift of the proceedings. Herewith, some random observations:
1. Andrews was rather combative towards you-know-who, suggesting that various behavior, including the abuse of presidential signing statements and threats of war against Iran without congressional approval, were troublesome and (at some point) might be impeachable offenses. The problem was that his answers left one wondering if, on some level, the Bush Administration's contempt for Congress might be somewhat justified. For example, when asked about Iran, he replied that we should work for internal political change in that country--a pretty unconvincing answer when all the factions in that country support the nuclear program. He also didn't seem to see a connection between the increasingly inherited nature of the presidency (two Bushes, two Clintons, maybe another Bush) and the imperial nature of the office, although admittedly this was a somewhat off-the-wall question, even if I did ask it.
2. Clark noted that Congress shared the blame for the problem because it had the power to change Iraq policy but wouldn't use it for its own reasons. I think those reasons are more or less clear--they'd prefer to watch Bush be hurt by the war than take the responsibility for stopping it--but he was too polite to say so.
3. Patterson tried to raise the level of the discussion by framing it as a question of balance (collective security vs. individual rights) rather than abstract legal principles, although I left before I could tell if he succeeded.
One of the things that continues to amaze me about Iraq (Iran) is the insubstantial, disconnected nature of the debate at a time when the stakes, in lives and American interests, are higher than ever. In particular I am amazed by people's ability to claim, simultaneously, that they will put pressure on Iran while withdrawing our forces from Iraq--a plainly contradictory position, especially since it is becoming increasingly clear that the Iranians are the key supporters of the anti-American Shiite militias. The good news: with the "surge" taking at least a temporary toll on the militias, and economic pressures beginning to bite on the Teheran regime, the prospect for negotiations may actually be better than it has been for some time now. Bush may thus have a window to negotiate on several issues (Iraq, the Iranian nuclear program, etc.) from a relative position of strength. Will he take it?