By Paul Ryder and Tom Hayden
[Research by Paul Ryder]
Nov. 10, 2014 – The nation needs a full public debate and a Congressional vote on whether to authorize the current American military interventions in Iraq and Syria and, if so, under what conditions. The past is prologue:
April 4, 1956: President Dwight Eisenhower’s news conference –
Q: Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, would you order those Marines that were sent over to the Mediterranean and over in that area, would you order them to war, without asking the Congress first?
A: President Eisenhower: I get discouraged sometimes here. I have announced time and time and time again I will never be guilty of any kind of action that can be interpreted as war until the Congress, which has the Constitutional authority, says so.
Now, I have said this so often that it seems to me almost ridiculous to ask me the question. Look, how can a war be conducted? You’ve got to have troops, you have got to have draft laws, you have got to have money. How could you conduct a war without Congress? Their Constitutional power is to declare war, and I am going to observe it.
Now, there are times when troops, to defend themselves, may have to, you might say, undertake local warlike acts, but that is not the declaration of war, and that is not going to war, and I am not going to order any troops into anything that can be interpreted as war, until Congress directs it.
One of the hard-earned lessons of the Vietnam War is that Congress must not cede to the White House its constitutional power to declare war.
This lesson became law in the form of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. With a new war starting in the Middle East, Congress must now invoke this law.
1. Why bring up Vietnam?
Since no two wars are the same, the new war is not the same as Vietnam. The similarities, however, are so haunting they are already being discussed across the board. Here is a selection of recent articles:
“Formula For Defeating ISIS Evokes Memories Of Vietnam Nightmare,” Donald Kirk, Forbes, September 13, 2014
“ISIS and Vietnam,” Thomas Friedman, New York Times, October 28, 2014
“Obama echoes LBJ on Vietnam,” Bruce Fein, Washington Times, September 21, 2014
“ISIS: Obama’s Vietnam?” David Seaton, Fire Dog Lake, October 12, 2014
“The Iraq/ISIS Debate: Beware the Ghosts of Saigon and Karbala,” The National Interest, July 10, 2014
“Ellsberg Sees Vietnam-Like Risks in ISIS War,” Barbara Koeppel, Consortium News, October 1, 2014
“McCain: ‘Incremental’ Strikes on ISIS Remind Me of Vietnam,” Brendan Bordelon, National Review, October 6, 2014
“Vietnam v. Iraq: Suicide attacks changed everything,” The Economist, September 11, 2014
“As U.S. Bombs Fall, British Hostage of ISIS Warns of Another Vietnam,” Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times, September 22, 2014
“Pentagon official: The Similarities Between Obama’s ISIS and Kennedy’s Vietnam Are Eerie,” Joseph Miller, Daily Caller, October 13, 2014
Like it or not, Vietnam is back. We all need to know what happened and what it means.
Today, Congress is hampered in this discussion by the loss of its institutional memory of Vietnam. No one currently in the U.S. Senate was in office in 1973 when the War Powers Resolution passed. Only four current members of the U.S. House were then serving: John Dingell of Michigan, who retires in January 2015, John Conyers of Michigan, Charles Rangel of New York, and Don Young of Alaska.
So, too, with the public: most Americans now living had not been born when the War Powers Resolution became 50 U.S. Code Chapter 33.
2. The Constitution and the Vietnam War
In 1787, the Founders made the Constitution as clear as they could about the matter: “The Congress shall have power to . . . declare war.”
Over the next 155 years, Congress passed eleven U.S. declarations of war authorizing five wars: the War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. 
President Harry Truman used the resolutions of the new United Nations as the legal basis for the Korean War, but the modern pattern for riding roughshod over Congress was set by President Lyndon Johnson.
The 1964 Tonkin Gulf “Incident” had four now-familiar stages.
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