Congress can lead on both war and peace

After the war scare with Iran, lawmakers can show more leadership in directing a president on war powers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, right, speaks with fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee after a briefing on Iran by administration officials Jan. 9.

In a rare case of unity Wednesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision not to retaliate against Iran for its missile strikes on U.S. forces. Both Democrats and Republicans welcomed his restraint and the pause for peace after five tense days following the U.S. killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force.

Lawmakers also welcomed Mr. Trump’s call for European allies to join in negotiating “a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

On matters of peace, members of Congress find it easy to achieve consensus with shared reason and wisdom.

On preventing or encouraging a president’s ability to take military action, however, those qualities of leadership are too often missing – no matter who is president.

On Thursday, in yet another attempt to control the powers of the commander in chief, the House planned to vote to block military action against Iran unless Congress authorized it. In the Senate, a similar bill stands a chance of passing. Yet as in past years, both chambers probably lack a supermajority to override an expected presidential veto.

For more than 70 years, Congress has steadily ceded war-making powers to the chief executive, partly because new types of weapons demand quick decisions and partly to avoid blame for a conflict that goes badly. Yet after the latest close encounter with Iran, it is time for Congress to finally set aside partisanship and assert its constitutional responsibility on issues of war. This requires leadership in order to achieve what James Madison called “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.”

The bipartisan praise for Mr. Trump’s restraint on Iran should now be mirrored in giving him definitive direction on how and when to use force against Iran to counter its aggression in the Middle East. For the world’s sake, the prospects for peace in the Mideast depend on the quality of deliberation in Washington. To rephrase a British prime minister, jaw-jaw can prevent war-war.

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