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Will Editorialists Eat Their Words On War Powers?

Bill Clinton's decision to unleash the dogs of war as he tip-toes on the precipice of impeachment conjures up a vision of White House defense lawyer Greg Craig appearing before Congress declaring: "The President's military action was evasive, incomplete, misleading, even maddening - but it's not impeachable."

There's no dodging the suspicion that Clinton is seeking to save his bacon by dropping some megatonnage on Saddam Hussein. After all, it's just what he did when he bombed Osama bin Laden's alleged facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan this summer. Both actions were launched with little or no consultation with Congress, and with too little consultation with the service chiefs at the Pentagon. Oh my, how the talking heads like Alan Dershowitz and NBC anchor-in-training Brian Williams are going nuts over that suggestion. How vile! How unpatriotic!

What hypocrites. How about the Democrats? In 1983, Clinton defender John Conyers called for Reagan's impeachment for invading Grenada. (For good measure, he earlier called for impeachment over the Gipper's alleged "incompetence" in dealing with unemployment.) In 1984, as he ran for President, and again in 1986, Jesse Jackson suggested Reagan should be subject to an impeachment probe over U.S. actions in Nicaragua. Rep. Henry Gonzalez called for impeachment in 1983 over Grenada and again in 1987 over Iran-Contra. The National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union advocated impeaching Reagan in 1987.

The major media didn't thump the tub for impeachment, but did suggest forcefully that Reagan's actions were even worse than the Watergate offenses that got Richard Nixon impeached. For example, in the January 9, 1984 New York Times, then-Senior Editor John B. Oakes proclaimed: "President Reagan's consistent elevation of militarism over diplomacy creates a clear and present danger to the internal and external security of the United States. Presidents have been impeached for less."

Oakes wasn't alone at the Times. On December 12, 1986, columnist Tom Wicker offered an echo: "Mr. Reagan probably won't be impeached or forced to resign - though the offenses resulting from his policy, or his somnolence on the job, are more serious than any charge the House Judiciary Committee approved against Mr. Nixon."

On February 24, 1987, Times columnist Anthony Lewis joined the chorus: "In Watergate, the impeachment process carried forward so impressively by the House Judiciary Committee viewed the President's responsibility in constitutional terms. Each of the three articles of impeachment approved by the committee found, in different particulars, that President Nixon has violated the duty put on Presidents by the Constitution to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed.' The abuses of power now known to have taken place in the Reagan administration are more serious, more fundamental, than those involved in Watergate."

Fast forward to August 4, 1987, when in the first of many columns over 10 years attacking Congress for failing to impeach Reagan over Iran-Contra, Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory complained: "But because the President has thrown two rascals out [John Poindexter and Oliver North] and replaced them with rational men, congress is ready to start over. It is grateful to Reagan for not making them impeach him. Congress, like a battered wife, will take back the abusive husband....Divorce, like impeachment, can be so messy."

That liberal argument wasn't contained to editorial pages. It surfaced in Time news writer Ed Magnuson's copy on June 22, 1987: "The Iran-contra mess has been more complex and difficult for Americans to follow than the Watergate tragedy, but according to New Jersey Congressman Peter Rodino, the newer scandal illustrates a similar 'arrogance of power.' Rodino knows the subject better than most; he chaired the House Judiciary Committee that voted articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. No similar threat imperils Ronald Reagan, and there are many differences between the two events. Still, as the hearings demonstrated, the Iran-contra misdeeds in some ways are more far-reaching in their implications, placing U.S. foreign policy in the hands of private citizens and arms merchants whose yearning for profits may have exceeded their patriotism."

So where are these noble folks today? Have you noticed how the words "War Powers Act" haven't been invoked much by the liberal media in the last, oh, six years, now that a President they favor is lobbing the bombs? Where are the calls for impeachment from John Conyers and Jesse Jackson? Where are the charges of abuse of power from the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post?

Nothing but silence. Stinking dead silence.