History Shows Long Pattern of Executive Branch Leadership

Article excerpt

The following are excerpts from the study "Congress and National Security in the Post-Cold War Era," by Dov S. Zakheim, published in October by the Nixon Center.

An examination of recent patterns in defense spending, the deployment of forces overseas, the provision of advice and consent to treaties, and the funding of major defense programs, even the imposition of sanctions relating to concerns about weapons proliferation, indicates that the Congress has tended to conform to the overall policy directives of the executive branch, despite partisan differences over many of those policies.

One of the most contentious national defense issues in the 1990s has been the deployment of American land forces in Bosnia. . . . President Clinton's decision to deploy 26,000 ground troops as part of the NATO Implementation Force to support the November 1995 Dayton accords prompted fierce congressional controversy.

Nevertheless, the executive branch was consistently able to muster congressional support for funding troop deployments to Bosnia, although Congress was frustrated by the administration's obfuscation about the duration, size and even nomenclature of the deployment.

Like its predecessors, the Republican-led Congress placed the highest priority on supporting both the forces in the field and their commander-in-chief, regardless of the party affiliation.

The Congress likewise followed the executive branch's lead in ratifying two major treaties: NATO enlargement and the Chemical Weapons Convention. . . .

There is no denying that the Congress does not necessarily follow the executive branch's lead on every national security issue. Yet even with respect to sanctions, where the Republican Congress is perceived to have stolen a march on the Democratic administration, there has been considerably more bipartisanship, and indeed commonality, between the two branches of government than is widely recognized. . . .

Congressional readiness to initiate sanctions legislation is a function of legislators' perception that the administration is irresolute in matters of foreign and national security policy. . . .

In contrast with its behavior [under Democratic leadership] in the past with respect to Vietnam, Central America, Lebanon and Somalia, the [Republican-led] Congress has generally gone along with Clinton administration policies that many members have found distasteful. …