The Politics of National Security: Congress and U.S. Defense Policy

The Politics of National Security: Congress and U.S. Defense Policy

The Politics of National Security: Congress and U.S. Defense Policy

The Politics of National Security: Congress and U.S. Defense Policy

Synopsis

Over the past twenty years, a revolution has occurred in relations between the American executive and legislative branches. Once a passive observer of the President's decisions on defense policy, the Congress has assumed a more aggressive role in decisions on the defense budget, arms control, war powers, sales of weapons abroad, and covert operations. Based on interviews with members of Congress and their staffs, The Politics of National Security describes and analyzes this fundamental change in the United States political system, concentrating on the political factors behind the Congress' greater assertiveness. The book explains how and why the transformation occurred and addresses the consequences for the defense of American interests abroad. Providing insights into the inner workings of Congress, this comprehensive study offers practical recommendations for resolving the long-standing issues between the two branches of United States government.

Excerpt

The White House and the Capitol building in Washington, separated by a physical distance of little more than a mile, sit on opposite sides of a gulf in attitudes and prejudices so vast as to defy most efforts to bridge them. The president and the Congress, the respective inhabitants of these two buildings, represent widely divergent perspectives on the sources, the means, and the impact of American policy options. These differences of outlook color all policy debates, but perhaps none so virulently as issues of U.S. defense and national security--fateful subjects in which presidents claim more than usual powers, just as citizens and their elected representatives are often more than usually concerned.

In a career that so far spans 26 years in Washington, I have been fortunate enough both to have served two stints in the executive branch, in the Pentagon and the State Department, and also to have worked closely with numerous members of the Congress. This association with the two, often disparate, branches has given me an appreciation of their relative strengths and weaknesses. It has made clear to me how poorly the country is served when the institutional clashes between the two branches, however predictable, overwhelm consideration of the national interest. It has also encouraged me to believe that a collaborative relationship may yet be developed--a relationship that would permit each branch to fulfill its special needs and perspectives, but also allow each to bring its unique talents, knowledge, and skills to the formulation and implementation of American defense policy.

By describing the evolution of congressional roles in U.S. defense policy in the period since the Vietnam War, I seek to demonstrate the reasons for, and the surprising endurance of, the legislature's newly assertive posture in foreign affairs, and also to describe its conse-

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