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Congress Missed Its Chance to Strangle the Imperial Presidency in Its Cradle

August 11, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

There are growing bipartisan
concerns
and warnings about the unrestrained power of
presidents to take the republic into war. That worry has surfaced
most recently with respect to U.S. military involvement in Syria
and the looming danger of war with Iran. Both Barack Obama and
Donald Trump committed U.S. military personnel to Syria, ostensibly
to repel the terrorist threat that ISIS posed, but also to assist
other insurgent forces attempting to overthrow Syrian dictator
Bashar al-Assad. Obama and Trump did so without seeking (much less
obtaining) a declaration of war—or even a more limited
congressional authorization.

Those episodes are just the latest manifestations of what
historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. labeled the imperial presidency more than four decades ago.
Schlesinger worried that the ability of presidents to launch major
military ventures on their own had grown steadily during the Cold
War and had reached the point that it undermined the constitutional
system of checks and balances. Matters have grown considerably
worse since he expressed such concerns. Indeed, the reality of an
out-of-control presidency regarding decisions of war and peace may
well have reached the point where it cannot be reversed.

The emergence of an imperial presidency reflects both executive
usurpation of the constitutional war power and congressional
abdication of that power. The most crucial episode was Harry
Truman’s commitment of U.S. troops to the Korean War in the summer
of 1950. True, there had been earlier episodes of executive
military missions with little or no congressional approval,
especially interventions in Latin America during the first decades
of the twentieth century. But there had never been anything close
to the scale of the Korean War. Not only the two world wars, but
smaller conflicts such as the Spanish-American War and the War of
1812, were authorized as the Constitution required: with a formal
declaration of war. Yet Truman sent more than three hundred
thousand U.S. military personnel to the Korean battlefield to wage
a full-scale war that ultimately lasted more than three years and
resulted in some thirty-six thousand American fatalities without
even asking for such a declaration.

The rule of law and the
health of the republic suffered a severe blow when the eighty-first
Congress failed to fulfill its constitutional duty and impeach
Truman.

The flaccid congressional response to Truman’s violation
of the Constitution was an omen of how subsequent Congresses would
fail to defend the war power that the founders explicitly entrusted
to the legislative branch. Members of the eighty-first Congress had
an opportunity to strangle the imperial presidency in its cradle by
impeaching the president if he persisted. But at …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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