The matter of Line Item v. Unconstitutional apparently having been settled in favor of null set, the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney turned today to each others' bouts with curious phraseology last night.
The bottom line, though, is that both Romney and Giuliani have intellectually defensible arguments and simply committed the venial sin of using the wrong words to express them.
So far as sinful language goes, Mitt Romney's was by far the most titillating.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: “Governor Romney, that raises the question, if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?”
ROMNEY: “You sit down with your attorneys and tell you want you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat. The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress...”
MATTHEWS: “Did he need it?”
ROMNEY: “You know, we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do. But, certainly, what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people -- leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world where those circumstances are available.”
Yes, well -- ought not a presidential candidate have an original opinion about the legal necessity of obtaining Congressional permission to launch a war? Or launching pre-emptive strikes against Iran? But -- to borrow a Rudy phrase -- exigencies really do matter here. The context matters, and it's absurd to think that a President Giuliani would refuse to get Congressional permission if his lawyers told him he had to. The Giuliani campaign sent this statement from a surrogate: “Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make. Lawyers should not debate while our national security is on the line. In these momentous decisions, we need leadership, not litigation.” Ok, well -- the question here is not about war, it's about an Osirak -like strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Even Giuliani did not give an unequivocal answer: here's what he said:
"It really depends on exigency of the circumstances and how legitimate it is, that it really is an exigent circumstance. It's desirable, it's safer to go to Congress, get approval from Congress."
It seems like they're saying the same thing. Romney just said it much more clumsily. The clumsier the phrasing, the more political damage can accrue.
You had to know the Giuliani campaign would go here:
SOUND FAMILIAR? ANOTHER MASSACHUSETTS POLITICIAN ALSO WANTED A NATIONAL SECURITY TEST …
This refers to the last sentence of Romney's remark -- the part where talks about, "certainly," the desire to have "agreement" among allies before undertaking such an action.
It seems to be that both Romney and Giuliani would agree with the following statements:
1. If circumstances -- whatever they might be -- demanded it, if the national security threat was immediate and urgent, the President has the authority to launch pinpoint or strategic military action on his or her own.
2. Both would prefer to get Congress's permission -- and, in fact, anticipate that if the scenario comes to pass, they would, of course, go to Congress.
3. Giuliani and Romney do not agree that the Congress MUST be consulted or given veto power over every military action the president has the means to executive. The contours of this disagreement are probably best worked out by lawyers, like Ted Olson.
4. Romney and Giuliani disagree with Fred Thompson, who believes that legitimacy is crucial to the success of any military endeavor and would always seek authorization from Congress before acting.
5. Romney is sensitive to what many in the world community and even many Republicans believe was a failure of diplomacy before the Iraq war; he reasons that America's national security might be harmed by another wave of blowback unless the American President can convince allied countries and the world of the nature of the threat.
6. Giuliani does not seem to share Romney's sensitivity and instead favors a stick-and-stick approach -- world opinion, in the short term, be damned if there are threats to our security.
7. The general consensus of Republican political strategists is that it is unwise to betray, in the context of national security, any care in the world for what other countries might think. If that consensus correctly interprets the opinion of Republican voters, then Romney's careful, intellectually honest answer might well be used against him later.