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How Congress Ends Wars

It always comes down to money

By

Dateline: February 2007

As the Democratically-controlled 110th Congress searches for a way to end the Iraq war authorized by the Republican-controlled 107th Congress, it seems appropriate to recall how the U.S. Congress ended the Vietnam War, and more recently, further U.S. military combat involvement in Somalia. At the end of those dark days, ending the battle came down to ending the money.

Congress Ends the Vietnam War
On Aug. 5, 1964, Congress enacted the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, authorizing President Lyndon Johnson to use "all necessary measures" to repel armed attacks against U.S. forces in Vietnam. The resolution passed easily, 466-0 in the House and 88-2 in the Senate, with the only dissenting votes coming from Democratic Sens. Wayne Morse (Oregon) and Ernest Gruening (Alaska).

Unlike the resolution authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Iraq, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution contained language allowing Congress to repeal it at any time. Unsuccessful congressional efforts to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution began as early as 1966, just two "quagmire-ish" years after its passage. Finally in January of 1971, Congress succeeded in passing a measure repealing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. While he did not veto it, President Richard M. Nixon refused to honor the measure and continued to wage the war, claiming presidential authority to do so as commander in chief of the military. But, another far more effective act of Congress would ultimately end the Vietnam War by closing the federal purse strings.

In December 1970, Congress reacted to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia by passing the landmark Cooper-Church amendment to the Foreign Military Sales Bill. The amendment, named for and sponsored by Sens. John Sherman Cooper (R-Kentucky) and Frank Church (D-Idaho), prohibited the use of any funds already appropriated for military spending on the introduction of additional U.S. troops into Cambodia. While President Nixon denounced Cooper-Church as harming the war effort, he failed to veto it. Today, the Cooper-Church amendment is regarded as the first congressional action taken limiting presidential powers during a war.

Following Cooper-Church, and even after the Paris cease-fire agreement, Congress literally dropped the hammer on the Vietnam War with its passage in 1973 of a joint resolution (H.J.Res. 636) prohibiting any further appropriation or expenditure of any funds for any "combat in or over or from the shores of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia."

Drawing the Purse Strings to End Wars
Since 1970, the United States Congress considered 21 bills intended to restrict or totally cut off funding for U.S. military operations on foreign soil. Of those 21 bills, five were actually enacted, drawing the curtain on further military combat operations in Indochina (Vietnam War), and Somalia in 1993.

In some cases, the funding cutoffs were absolute and applied to specific military operations, like combat. In other cases, continued spending was allowed for limited military purposes, including combat related to the safe withdrawal of U.S. troops and civilians. In a few instances, the funding cutoff was contingent upon certain conditions or events taking place, such as the negotiation of a cease-fire or the release of U.S. prisoners of war.

In November of 1993, Congress passed an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act prohibiting the obligation of additional funds for U.S. military operations in Somalia after March 31, 1994. The amendment carried four conditions under which additional funding could be allowed after the cutoff date: 1.) The money was requested by President George W. Bush, Sr. and approved by Congress. 2.) The money was necessary to protect U.S. civilians. 3.) The money was needed for U.S. combat forces under the command and control of U.S. commanders. 4.) In the event President Bush, Sr. had decided to intensify efforts to have the U.N. deploy additional troops to Somalia to take over ongoing military efforts.

There seem to be three common threads to wars that are eventually ended by the U.S. Congress. First, a majority of the public wants the war ended. Second, the President of the United States believes the war can ultimately be won. And third, Congress ends up having to cut off further funding for the war to end it.

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