Remembrance of Powers Lost

The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Remembrance of Powers Lost

THE SOURCE: "Congressional Abdication" by Jim Webb, in The National Interest, March/April 2013.

BEHOLD THE CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS OF the legislative branch in the realm of foreign affairs: to declare war, to raise an army and maintain a navy, to ratify treaties.

The Founding Fathers weren't as generous with the president: He is commander in chief, but in deciding matters of war and peace, lawmakers are to keep the chief executive on a short leash, lest he resemble a monarch.

Congress has shirked those weighty constitutional responsibilities, contends Jim Webb, a recently retired Democratic senator from Virginia. On an alarming number of occasions since 9/11, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have thumbed their noses at Capitol Hill. Cowed by political pressure or suffering from collective amnesia, Congress hardly whimpered.

In 2008, President Bush signed a wide-ranging Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq. The Bush administration deftly avoided labeling the agreement a "treaty," so the document didn't require Senate ratification. "But neither was it a typical executive-branch negotiation designed to implement current policy and law," writes Webb, a Marine Corps veteran, novelist, and onetime Republican who served as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. After the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars and the loss of thousands of American lives, the "framework" determined the course of substantial U.S. assistance to the fledgling regime in Baghdad for years to come.

Webb, who served one term in the Senate (2007-13), says Bush should have consulted Congress about something so consequential. Instead, the administration kept the agreement under wraps until the eleventh hour. Just before it was signed, Webb requested access to the document. Other lawmakers weren't so diligent: "It appears that I was the only member of the Senate who at least at that point had actually read it." The Iraqi parliament, meanwhile, voted on the pact two times.

In May 2012, President Obama pulled a similar stunt. After more than a year of negotiations with Afghanistan, he skirted congressional oversight by signing "a legally binding executive agreement," as the White House termed it.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Remembrance of Powers Lost


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?