I want to say something about Undersecretary of State Nick Burns’ presentation on Iran policy which I attended this afternoon, but for now just follow along with Spencer Ackerman’s points that Burns says it’s now US policy that al-Qaeda is less important than Iran and his willingness to go beyond the president’s claims about the Iranian government’s culpability for weapons getting into Iran. Meanwhile, here we have Hillary Clinton following the precedent that’s been set by Harry Reid and some other Democratic leaders in staking out a clear stance on presidential authority to initiate a war with Iran:
It would be a mistake of historical proportion if the administration thought that the 2002 resolution authorizing force against Iraq was a blank check for the use of force against Iran without further Congressional authorization. Nor should the president think that the 2002 resolution authorizing force after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in any way authorizes force against Iran. If the administration believes that any, any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority.
As a matter of politics, optics, etc. I like to hear this kind of thing from our major Democratic legislators. As a citizen concerned about the course of events in the world, the problem is that I continue to think it’s false. The War Powers Act grants the president authority to initiate hostilities against anyone he likes for a period of sixty days. The Clinton administration’s Department of Justice, meanwhile, took the view that, by granting the Clinton administration’s request for an emergency supplemental appropriation for military operations in Kosovo, congress had implicitly authorized the continuation of hostilities after the sixty day time frame. The Bush administration, for obvious reasons, is unlikely to take a more restrictive view of presidential power in this regard than did its predecessor. Meanwhile, congress is very unlikely to refuse to grant a supplemental appropriation to continue hostilities if they are initiated — just look at their view on providing supplemental appropriations for Iraq.
UPDATE: Sorry, my initial effort to cut-and-paste what Clinton said went a bit awry and I had her saying the wrong thing. The correct line is up there now.
UPDATE II: Okay, as Henley points out, the War Powers Act actually requires “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” Obviously, the administration is already laying the groundwork for a suitable predicate along these lines with this IED business. Which, when you think about it, is more than Clinton bothered to do in Kosovo.