State legislators in Vermont introduced legislation
Wednesday demanding the state's National Guard troops return from Iraq. Lawmakers
in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are poised to push similar legislation.
At the heart of the matter is a contention that President George W. Bush's
legal authority to deploy the National Guard to Iraq has expired.
"Congress laid out a pretty specific mission for the Guard in 2002,"
Vermont State Representative Michael Fisher (D-Lincoln) told OneWorld. "That
mission was two things: it was to defend the national security of the United
States [against] the threat posed by Iraq, and, two, to enforce all relevant
United Nations Security Council resolutions. I don't believe there are any credible
arguments that the state of Iraq poses a risk to the Untied States or that there
may still be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
"If the president believes there's still a need to have our National Guard
in Iraq to stabilize that country or whatever, it's his job to go back to Congress
and ask for that authorization," Fisher added. "The president doesn't
have the authority to permanently federalize our Guards."
The legislation comes amid increasing antiwar sentiment in the Green Mountain
state. In 2005, voters in 48 Vermont towns approved resolutions calling on the
State Legislature to study the effect on Vermont of numerous deployments to
Iraq and asked Vermont's congressional delegation ''to work to restore a proper
balance between the powers of the states and that of the federal government
over state National Guard units."
The Vermont State Legislature also asked the president and the Congress to
withdraw the U.S. military from Iraq.
Vermont, like other rural parts of the country, has suffered disproportionately
from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, say analysts. A November 2006 report
by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire found soldiers from
rural Vermont had the highest death rate in the nation.
A June 2007 survey sponsored by the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies
found rural support for the war slipping: some 45 percent of rural Americans
said then that the United States should "stay the course" in Iraq,
down from 51 percent in 2004.
And 60 percent of respondents said they knew someone serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Despite popular sentiment and rising casualties, Vermont's Republican Governor
Jim Douglas reacted coldly to Fisher's legislation.
"This is a federal issue," spokesman Jason Gibbs told the Burlington
Free Press. "Governor Douglas would like to see Washington develop
a strategy to bring the troops home."
The Free Press reported that, according to Gibbs, the Vermont governor's
legal staff looked into the authority over the National Guard when the issue
was under public scrutiny several years ago. They found that states had no legal
basis for refusing to deploy National Guard units, Gibbs said. "To change
that, Congress would have to act."
This is not the first time states have looked into recalling their National
Guards from an unpopular foreign conflict.
In the 1986, several governors opposed to President Ronald Reagan's covert
military operations in Central America refused to allow their National Guard
units to participate in exercises there.
That fall, Congress, led by Mississippi Congressmen and longtime National Guard
ally G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery, passed an amendment to the Defense
Authorization Act that prevented governors from withholding units from federal
training in the future.
Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich took the lead in challenging the new law, but
after losing several appeals, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the law's
constitutionality in 1990.
Many constitutional authorities argue that the Montgomery Amendment essentially
ended any power a governor might have to veto deployment of National Guard units.
But the bill's backers say the war in Iraq is different than the 1980s conflict
in Central America.
"In the 1980s, President Reagan said he wanted to send the National Guard
to Central America for 'training,'" said Benson Scotch, a former chief
staff attorney to Vermont's Supreme Court, who helped write the bill. "There
is no such thing as a limited authorization by Congress for a permanent ongoing