Page 21


Clinton, Congress and the War Powers Act BY BOB ECKHARDT Austin WHEN U.S. TROOPS were sent to Somalia in December it was obvious that the operation would straddle two presidential administrations. By law, it should have ended on February 8, 1993, 60 days after the report of President Bush to Congress on December 10 and 19 days after Bill Clinton took the oath of office unless it was extended under the provisions of the War Powers Act. President Bush had predicted that “Operation Restore Hope,” a humanitarian program protected by more than 25,000 U.S. military personnel, could end within 60 days \(in about 42 days, he had been led bered for a humanitarian effort, achieved during his final days of his presidency. Bush did perform nobly in directing the Armed Forces to provide food and medical services for the starving Somalis and, had the mission ended within 60 days and the U.S. troops returned home, his Presidency would have ended with a great service to humanity. By the time 60 days had passed and a new president was in office, Congress should have invoked the War Powers Act to extend Operation Restore Hope. With young men in nondescript uniform riding around in open trucks and brandishing automatic rifles, and warlords trying to redefine their role while a military-humanitarian operation was in progress, Somalia was still in great turmoil and there clearly existed a situation of “imminent hostility,” which requires the application of the War Powers Act. The Act would have legally and constitutionally defined the terms by which a very substantial U.S. force would remain in the country, and sent a strong and clear message to potential adversaries. It also would have discouraged potential adversaries from exploiting political differences between two branches of the American government, using, perhaps, the American public as a wedge to divide the President from the Congress. The War Powers Act, which gives Congress authority to extend the deployment of U.S. troops in a potentially hostile situation on foreign soil “by law [for a] sixty-day period,” could have been easily implemented, because the new President and the public were favorably inclined. But Congress failed to act in Bob Eckhardt is a former Democratic congressman from Houston. He actively participated in the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973. He now lives in Austin. those early days of the Clinton Administration, when in February of 1993 there was a decision to be made: To order the return of the U.S. soldiers from Somalia, or To extend for another 60 days the deployment of the massive U.S. force in order to bring about political security and order. Irhe War Powers Act was ignored, the mili tary action continued and the hostilities in Somalia increased while protection provided by U.S. forces was being decreased. Had the Act been implemented on February 8, as the law required, the President and Congress would have been compelled to focus on the question of imminent hostilities in Somalia and the result might have been a more focused policy. But the President was absorbed with domestic affairs and Congress was deathly afraid of lending its imprimatur to any warlike situation. On February 4 the Senate did adopt S.R. 45, authorizing the President “to use United States Alined Forces pursuant to the United Nations Security Council Resolution.” Though the measure authorized the use of “all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia,” it was nothing more than a Tonkin Gulf-type resolution, by which Congress could pass the buck to the President. Although the Senate Resolution purported to provide “specific statutory authority” there was nothing about it that was specific. And it was not until May 25 that the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 45 with an amendment. No concurring action ever took place between the two chambers, which is Congress’ way of doing nothing. The essential difference between the Senate and House legislation was that while the Senate gave the President a blank check, the House would have given him virtually complete authority for a year. So the 60-day terminal date established in come and gone on February 8 and except for several incidents of further combat between the U.S. forces and Somalis, instigated by one or more warlords, there was little change for another 60 days. Nevertheless, there was a situation of imminent hostilities within the country and at least two U.S. soldiers and a number of Somalis were killed. At the beginning of May the Administration directed a reduction of U.S forces and shifted overall responsibility for the operation to the United Nations. These newly deployed U.N. forces were a babel of people in a quagmire of national disorder. The lull that began in February continued for three months, but as President Clinton had never conducted his policy with the joint support of the executive and legislative branches, Somali General Mohammed Farah Aidid had been led to believe that the United States was stepping aside and turning the operation over to a weaker U.N. force. Aidid required about a month to organize and on June 5 his forces attacked. When 23 U.N. Pakistani soldiers were killed and 39 wounded in a guerrilla attack, the U.S. Quick Reaction Force was called out for the protection of the U.N. peacekeepers. A week later, U.S. C-130 airplanes and helicopters struck Aidid’ s headquarters and armories, but the general continued his attacks. On October 3, 18 Americans were killed and scores wounded in fighting on the streets and roadways of Mogadishu. It was the worst possible field of military action amongst crowds of excited and frequently hostile Somalis and more than 300 Somalis were killed and an unknown number of civilians wounded. On October 6, the President reported that he had decided to send 2,000 more troops to Somalia and on October 7 he specified that he would send 1,700 combat soldiers and 3,600 Marines, to be quartered in warships on the coast of Somalia. On October 11, American fighter jets flew over Mogadishu several times, signaling the arrival of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off the coast of the Indian Ocean. This event was the first new instance of “introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances” and it required \(under section report the incident to Congress. Such a report to Congress would start the clock ticking on the 60-day period specified by the War Powers Act. In practice, the President complied with the Act, gave notice of the impending deployment of U.S. Armed Forces and formally consulted with the leaders of the Congress although this was more of a briefing than a consultation. But it can now be properly said that the president’s report required in section 4 of the War Powers Act has been filed with the Speaker, the President Pro Tempore and other congressional leaders, within 48 hours of the introduction of U.S. troops into a potentially hostile situation. It is true that President Clinton did not mention the phrase, 6 OCTOBER 29, 1993