Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Presidents Have Power to Make War

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Presidents Have Power to Make War

Article excerpt

I am among those - they seem to be legion - who fear that a U.S. "police action" to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti is a fool's errand and a bizarre gamble with Bill Clinton's presidency. But if Clinton is a muddler when it comes to policy-making processes, he is dead right in his determination not to undermine the presidency in his pursuit of the foes of Aristide. I have in mind his resistance to the clamor that he has a constitutional obligation to seek prior congressional assent.

As always, Congress is eager to tilt any constitutional argument in its favor, especially the argument over war powers. Until the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union fell apart, Congress was playing a bust hand. The impotence of its case for a congressional veto power over presidential use of force was enshrined in the pathetic War Powers Resolution of 1973, a nostalgic wish-list of the powers Congress regretted not having asserted 10 years earlier, when it was acquiescing in the slide into Vietnam. Presidents, then and until very recently, held all the high cards.

If American survival, and the security of freedom, depended on nuclear deterrence, it must be entrusted to the president. In a world menaced first by intercontinental bombers and then by ballistic missiles, a president had to be given the awesome discretion to use nuclear weapons without consultation. Twenty minutes' warning did not allow time for a declaration of war.

And if so great a life-and-death discretion must be delegated, so ran the seductive argument, who would venture to quibble over presidential judgments of lesser magnitude - in Korea or Southeast Asia, much less Panama or Grenada or the Dominican Republic? There was quibbling aplenty, but usually after the fact, incited by a sense of presidential weakness or misjudgment and almost always shamelessly partisan - like Bob Dole's hypocritical protestations now.

But these were political and prudential disputes, not legal ones. That's the key point. …

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