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        Presidents, Precedents and the Use of Military Force
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        Presidents, Precedents and the Use of Military Force
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Abstract

In the late summer of 1996 Iraqi troops moved into the Kurdish “safe haven” in Northern Iraq, thereby triggering a crisis of national security for the United States. Unsurprisingly, this incident led to speculation in the media about the nature of President Clinton's response. Would he be able to meet this test of his leadership? What form would any military action take? Would it be strong enough, or would it be an overreaction? In the event, the president ordered two cruise missile strikes against Iraqi defence installations and substantially extended the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq set up after the Gulf War. These actions were the subject of debate in the United States Senate and, after some partisan wrangling, and a few rumbles of complaint about inadequate consultation, a non-binding resolution endorsing the missile strikes was approved by a vote of 96–1. But, as was noted by the press, “none of this really mattered because such ‘sense of the Senate’ resolutions have no binding effect and are largely ignored, even inside the Beltway.”

What was striking about this incident was that throughout the crisis the United States Congress was little more than a bystander. Inevitably all eyes turned to the president. It was he and not the national legislature that became the focus of public and media attention. Does he have the mettle needed? What will he do, and will his actions be sufficient to deal with the situation? These were the sort of questions being debated on the talk shows and in the press. To put it bluntly, at this moment, there was little interest in what the legislature might say or do, the mighty Congress, at this point at least, was reduced to a role comparable, dare it be said, to that of the British House of Commons. The situation called for leadership and decisive action and no one was under any illusion that the legislature could provide either, only the president was in a position to meet these needs. When it comes to the making of foreign policy, and particularly when crises of national security arise, the president, it seems, is inevitably, the main player, the senior partner.