A new year, a new Congress, a new milestone as U.S. deaths exceed 3,000: This is a decisive moment in the urgent matter of the chaos and carnage in Iraq. With the report of the Iraq Study Group completed (and seemingly shelved), and with President Bush closeted with his war advisers, the question raised in conversation, on television news and in the press is: What will Mr. Bush decide?
A Newsweek cover, for example, asks, "Will Bush Listen?" An op-ed by David Ignatius in The Washington Post ends with these words: "The man under the spotlight knows he will have to make this decision alone." The unexamined premise is that America's next course of action in Iraq depends entirely on the final judgment of one man, George W. Bush.
But the nation's next step is not the president's alone to decide. The more important question is: What will Congress decide? There is a way for Congress to swiftly stanch the flow of American blood in Iraq without a bitter, partisan debate over the causes or conduct of the war.
Although President Bush might have invaded Iraq even without congressional approval, he did seek and get that authority in "The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq," passed by Congress in October 2002 and still in effect. That document presented 23 declarations of "fact," stated in "whereas" clauses, that, in the president's view, warranted his use of our military to invade Iraq. Congress agreed and authorized this war.
Now, regardless of whether those statements were at that time false or misleading, and putting aside any confrontations about the blame for the war, the fundamental "whereas" clauses that were the basis for war are now clearly wrong or no longer applicable. A few examples:
"Whereas Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations."
That declaration, as we now know, was not true in 2002 and is not true today. Even if it had been true, the Iraqi regime that allegedly committed those offenses no longer exists. Today's Iraqi government poses no military threat to any other nation.
"Whereas the current Iraq regime has demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people."
The "current Iraq regime" referred to did use chemical weapons against its enemies and its own citizens. But the leader of that regime has been captured and hanged. Again, Iraq today poses no military threat to anyone.
"Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law No. 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
The United States has invaded Iraq and removed "the current Iraqi regime" from power and has promoted a series of efforts to create a democratic Iraqi government - all declared by President Bush to be successful.
Whatever motives led the president to ask, and Congress to grant, authority to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq, the justifications stated in whereas after whereas are not true today. Yet they remain on the books, still the official position of Congress.
So the vital decision is not President Bush's alone, and Congress should not wait to proceed on its own. Congress is morally obligated - now - to review its outdated joint resolution authorizing force against Iraq, and to undertake a new joint resolution declaring, in essence, "Whereas the purposes of the original authorization have been served; whereas the stated reasons justifying the authorization no longer exist; whereas the objectionable Iraqi regime has been removed and the new Iraqi regime poses no military threat to its neighbors or the United States; that, therefore, U.S. military forces are no longer authorized to remain in Iraq."
Far-fetched? Not in the least. Congress used this very procedure in 1993 to withdraw U.S. troops from Somalia.
Their orderly departure should begin as promptly as the military protocols for force protection will allow and be completed within six months of the passage of a new joint resolution.
It is important to note that this approach bypasses, for now, a divisive debate about Mr. Bush's war policies. If Congress wishes to examine the causes of this war, that is a separate matter that should not interfere with a rational review of a joint resolution that is obsolete.
Roscoe C. Born, a Sykesville resident, was Washington editor of Barron's magazine and a reporter in The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.