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A quiet crisis

08/14/02 12:00AM By Bill Seamans
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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans says that we may be in the middle of a quiet constitutional crisis, perhaps all the more dangerous for its lack of noisy debate.

(Seamans) When the nation is facing a security crisis, a confused public is a very potent enemy weapon. Confusion weakens one of the strongest pillars of our form of democracy - that is, the desire to challenge and debate major government decisions that will affect our lives for years to come. Regrettably, too much discordant noise is coming out of Washington and the presidential vacation ranch in Texas at a time when it is crucial for the Bush administration to speak with one coordinated voice to avoid confusion.

Instead, as Bush continues to declare a warlike imperative to terminate Saddam Hussein's regime, his administration has generated a Babel of rhetoric and leaks about whether and how we should attack Iraq. Some critics say all the noise is proof that the Bushites can't agree on how to cancel Saddam. Others say it's all a deliberate disinformation plan to confuse Saddam. We don't know what effect it's having on him, but surely we, the people, are confused.

Perhaps all this noise has diverted the public's attention from a major constitutional crisis over the steps Bush has taken in regard to Iraq. The Nation magazine says, "The Constitutional crisis is so deep that it is not even noticed." The New York Times asks, "Can the Bush administration unilaterally decide to go to war without seeking the assent of Congress?" Co-President Dick Cheney thinks so. He says there is "an inherent presidential power to act in defense of vital national interests that comes directly from the Constitution and not from Congress." Again the New York Times, "Nothing in the Constitution or the history of its adoption suggests that a president can carry the nation into war when Congress has time for deliberation." While some presidents have used their constitutional authority as commanders in chief to conduct undeclared wars, for example Vietnam, "in this case" says the Times, "bypassing Congress would be politically irresponsible."

Well, it seems to this observer that if Congress has time for a month-long vacation, it surely has time to debate the constitutional question whether Bush has the power to launch a war against another nation state without the assent of Congress. A war that could cost the lives of hundreds or even more of some of the best of our youth.

If, indeed, we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis that is so deep that it is not even noticed, what will it take to rouse the public out if its confusion to demand a loud and clear Congressional debate over whether we should declare war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq?

Well, your congresspersons are home now fly-casting for votes. When he or she makes that touch-the-common-folk visit to your local diner, ask them about it.

This is Bill Seamans

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.
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