Congress’s power to make appropriations carries with it the power to make changes in foreign policy, which is otherwise the sole prerogative of the President. In attaching strings to the funding, however, Congress must use its political will wisely and effectively. Congress cannot degrade the President before the global community, for that would harm the nation as a whole.
Paul Bremer comes across as a decent guy working to bring democracy to Iraq. Yet the occupation he superintends remains fragile. His government has failed to accomplish law and order. Terrorists are descending in Iraq to fight, die and kill. Muslim countries are refusing to send troops. The rhetoric of a just war is losing its pitch and momentum. Here in the US, partisan politics has surfaced to challenge the President’s reasons to go to war. In a harsh indictment, Senator Edward Kennedy has accused the Bush administration of waging a fraudulent war made up in Texas.
Now, the question is whether Congress should provide $87 billion (and more later) that the administration has requested to maintain the occupation until “the job is done.”
It is unlikely that Congress would deny the first installment of requested funds, for any such rejection would be viewed as ingratitude toward American soldiers--dead, wounded and still fighting. Also, a Congress-Executive split would be celebrated in terrorist headquarters as the first signs of an eventual retreat. Furthermore, Washington’s international credibility would suffer as nations across the world see America as a Giant that acts impulsively, and even lawlessly, but cannot persevere under pressure.
The argument that Congress voted for war and not for occupation, though elegantly made by Senator Robert Byrd, has no merit. Occupation was a foreseeable consequence of war, despite rosy promises the President made about the ease and durability of victory. President was perhaps wrong in his assessment of costs and benefits of war. The fact, however, cannot be denied that the US invaded Iraq for the long haul. Everybody in Washington knew that, or should have known that.
Congress is therefore trapped in the logic of fait accompli, a logic that first accomplishes facts on the ground and then forces its critics to cope with reality. The President has presented a fait accompli to Congress, as the occupation of Iraq is a reality that Congress must deal with. Congress simply cannot say to the President, “Bring the troops home,” for so much is at stake.
If Congress refuses to appropriate requested funds, foreign nations will become even less cooperative. International donors will be even more reluctant to finance the occupation. Even coalition partners will face increased domestic pressure to withdraw their troops from Iraq. The people of the United Kingdom, for example, have already begun to challenge the wisdom of occupation. Any withholding of funds might force the President to order a premature withdrawal of troops--a scenario that will benefit no one, not even the people of Iraq.
For right now, therefore, Congress cannot in good faith deny funds to the Bremer government. Yet, Congress is under no obligation to finance the occupation with no strings attached. The Constitution empowers Congress “to provide for the common defense [and] to raise and support armies.” Congressional appropriations should not be viewed as mere monies. These appropriations are indeed ratification of purposes for which the monies would be used. The power to make appropriations carries with it the power to make changes in foreign policy, which is otherwise the sole prerogative of the President.
Congress, for example, may require the President to seek an appropriate United Nations Security resolution that allocates the burden as well as the authority of occupation to other nations. The Bremer government will be more effective if it is answerable to an international advisory group drawn from countries that the people of Iraq truly trust. Congress can use the power of the purse to force the Bush administration to shun its isolationism and consult other nations.
In attaching strings to the funding, Congress must use its political will wisely and effectively. Congress cannot degrade the President before the global community, for that would harm the nation as a whole. At the same, Congress simply cannot finance an occupation that seems to be going nowhere, that has alienated the United States in the world community, and that continues to bring death and injury to American soldiers who have been asked to patrol the streets, schools, and hospitals of a nation that refuses to be grateful. Congress must provide adequate funds to the Bremer government--but not without conditions.
Ali Khan is professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. His other publications are available here.