In the current debates over Kosovo, competing factions are now waging a propaganda war of Orwellian “newspeak” words. Sadly, there are some serious constitutional problems that most commentators of the mainstream media are obfuscating, if not intentionally concealing.
In the aftermath of the acquittal of President Clinton of perjury as an impeachable offense, even his most strident defenders do not openly dispute that the Constitution imposes some limits on presidential powers. Yet within days of his acquittal the president engaged us in a military war, based on an unconstitutional principle.
As was noted by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) in a speech on March 15, 1999:
“The problem is that for far too long members of Congress have endorsed the unconstitutional principle of complete presidential prerogative in military affairs. It is Congress, not the President, which is empowered to declare war. For years, though, Congress has allowed presidents — Republican and Democrat — to recklessly scatter our troops around the world to play the ill-conceived role of international policemen.”
I share Mr. Paul’s opposition to the waging of another undeclared war by President Clinton. I also share the opposition to the bombings expressed by Lew Rockwell in WorldNetDaily on April 1, 1999, Two quotations from his article titled “Freedom vs. War” are well worth repeating:
” ‘Peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations — entangling alliances with none.’ Those immortal words of Thomas Jefferson sum up the original American vision of our nation’s role in the world. This compact of independent states would trade freely with all, and eschew the hatreds and wars of Europe…”
Mr. Rockwell also quotes Madison:
“Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. … War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it.”
As a lifelong Democrat I continue to regard Jefferson as the founder of my party. Mr. Rockwell’s article also reminded me of my participation in the Nixon impeachment proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee. At that time, I had studied Madison’s writings carefully. He had been the principal architect of the Impeachment Clause as a means of enforcing the Constitution’s limitations on executive powers.
In 1974 one of my closest friends and political allies in the impeachment of Nixon was Congressman John Conyers. A quarter century later, in my view. John became a shamelessly partisan defender of the justifiably impeached President Clinton.
As advocates of Nixon’s impeachment, John and I were also allied with then-youthful Republican Congressman Bill Cohen, who is now Clinton’s secretary of defense. In my view, these days Cohen has a “hang-dog” look whenever he appears on TV in support of Clinton — who previously not only lied to the Cabinet and the American people, but also lied under oath to the courts.
The Watergate scandal had involved the burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee by pro-Nixon operatives, most of whom had ties to the CIA dating back to the Kennedy administration. None of the evidence obtained by the Judiciary Committee showed that Nixon either directed or had advance knowledge of the break-in.
On July 30, 1974, we completed the adoption of three articles of impeachment. None charged Nixon personally with the commission of a felony. Instead, they held him accountable for crimes that were unknown to him when committed. Both Conyers and Cohen voted to impeach Nixon — not for a felony, but for his efforts to cover-up Watergate:
“[I]n violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of president of the United States, and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States…”
Following the adoption of the third article, John introduced a fourth article of impeachment. It charged Nixon with bombing Cambodia “in derogation of the power of Congress to declare war.” Although it was eventually voted down, it then had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and 12 Judiciary Committee Democrats.
In addition to Conyers, the Democrats included four other who were later to defend Clinton: Charles Rangel, Elizabeth Holtzman, Robert Drinan, and Wayne Owens. In 1999, my five old friends marched in lockstep in a “culture war” against the Republicans. To shield Clinton from impeachment for personally committing felonies (perjury and the obstruction of justice) they appeared repeatedly on TV — and revised the true history of the non-felonious Nixon articles of impeachment they had voted for at the time of Watergate.
Ironically, the arguments of the Democrats who had also voted to impeach Nixon for bombing Cambodia were the same as those currently advanced by Republican Ron Paul. On July 30,1974, I sat close to Conyers in hearing room 2141 of the Rayburn Building. I agreed when he said:
“The one power of Congress that might, in fact, be more important than the [impeachment] power that brings us here is the power to declare war… The President unilaterally undertook major military actions against a sovereign nation… [Regarding] the results of undeclared wars I think a word should be said about it.
“We cannot absolve the fact that the Congress has failed to declare officially the war [in Vietnam] that has haunted us for nearly ten years. But we can use this moment as a new beginning… where the Congress says from this moment on, from this day forward, we will reinstate that law constitutionally asserted from the beginning that somehow during the course of previous [Democratic] administrations, I am frank to admit, has eroded and we find that that power is no longer ours and ours alone.”
In 1974 Holtzman described Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia as “in derogation of this system of free government and the participation of Congress.” Owens, like Conyers, conceded that, prior to Nixon, Lyndon Johnson had also unconstitutionally waged an undeclared war in Vietnam, but in rebuttal to Nixon’s defenders added, ” I am amazed… that the argument can surface that the sins of the impeachable offenses, if they are, of one president [Johnson] can justify the same sins of another president [Nixon].”
Father “Bob” Drinan, a Jesuit Priest, was by far Congress’ most strident critic of the unconstitutional bombing of Cambodia by Nixon — whom he frequently described as a “fascist war criminal.” After Watergate, because of Drinan’s fierce partisanship, the Pope gave him an ultimatum: Get out of Congress or get out of the Jesuit order. Father “Bob” retired from Congress. But in 1998, along with former Committee members Holtzman and Owens, he came back to the same House Judiciary hearing room to testify in defense of Clinton.
But of all the proponents of Nixon’s impeachment none has been less surprising, and more disappointing, to me than Bill Cohen. In 1974, he had broken ranks with his own Republican Party to impeach Nixon for non-felonious complicity in the cover-up of Watergate. But Cohen voted “No” against impeachment for the bombing of Cambodia. He also revealed his budding talent for “newspeak.” He blamed the undeclared war against Cambodia on Congress rather than on Nixon, stating:
“While this usurpation [of Congress’ war powers] may have taken place, I happen to believe the usurpation has come about not through the boldness of President Nixon but rather on the default and sloth of the Congress.”
Soon thereafter, Cohen was elected to the Senate. He then augmented his income, and perfected his Orwellian skills, by writing novels on political intrigue. These days as Secretary of Defense (and the lone Republican in the cabinet) Cohen applauds Clinton for his boldness in waging undeclared wars — in defiance of a majority of congressional Republicans. Cohen had also smiled and remained silent when media celebrities such as Alan Dershowitz, James Carville, and Alex Baldwin denounced pro-impeachment Republicans as racists and right-wing radicals.
I, for one, am appalled at the waging by my fellow Democrats of their “culture war” against such Republicans as Ron Paul. With no confidence in the integrity of Bill Cohen. I applaud Ron Paul for opposing undeclared military wars as well as for his vote to impeach Clinton.
At the end of his article, Mr. Rockwell included, among others, Ron Paul and WorldNetDaily Editor Joseph Farah on a short, but growing: “List of public figures who have spoken out against Clinton’s latest bombing campaign, sometimes at risk to their careers and reputations.” He requested that other names be sent to him by email.
I hope and pray that in next year’s presidential campaign — with the aid of those of us who agree with Lew Rockwell — the question of undeclared wars may eventually receive the public attention it deserves.
Jerome Zeifman served as chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. He is currently writing a book titled “Twice In A Lifetime: The Impeachments of Presidents Nixon and Clinton — And The Decline of Political Morality.”