Executive Orders and Foreign Affairs
IF THE PRESIDENT'S domestic policy power has grown steadily but incrementally since the 1930s, in foreign affairs it has grown explosively. Indeed, few dispute the pattern of increased presidential power in foreign affairs over the past fifty years. Although congressional-presidential disputes over the war powers have had the highest profile in this area, executive orders have played a role in the day-to-day expansion of presidents' institutional capacity as well. In this chapter I analyze two cases that reveal the same patterns of gradual evolution, exploitation of residual decision rights, and the importance of moving first that I covered in the previous chapter on the budget and regulatory institutions. In much the same way, presidents have asserted almost complete control over the organization of the national intelligence community and the classification process protecting government information from public disclosure. Throughout the twentieth century, presidents have succeeded in expanding their power, particularly with respect to Congress, with little interference. The pattern identified at the beginning of this book—presidential initiative continually outflanking congressional efforts to impose a statutory regime—is readily apparent.
The issues of information secrecy and intelligence organization involve fundamental questions about representative government and the separation of powers. An absolute government prerogative to keep information from Congress and the public undercuts both congressional oversight and public accountability. Critics are quick to charge that the ability to classify information is a crucial element of presidential power and that it almost inevitably leads to abuses. In The Imperial Presidency, Arthur Schlesinger argued that by the end of the 1960s “the religion of secrecy had become an all-purpose means by which the American Presidency sought to dissemble its purposes, bury its mistakes, manipulate its citizens and maximize its power.” 1 More recently, the 1995 Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy concluded that “secrecy can [have] significant consequences for the functioning of government itself. Information is power, and it is no mystery to government officials that power can be increased through controls on the flow of information.” 2
The availability of information, then, and the procedures for restricting the distribution of that information are central issues of government