Third and final blog reflecting on Garry Wills’ BOMB POWER: THE MODERN PRESIDENCY AND THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE. The first blog in the series is Super Power: Is The Bomb America’s True or only strength?
In the previous blog, Presidential Power, American Founding Father James Madison was very clear as to war power belonging to the Congress and why – America is not to be governed by one person laying claim to imperial power. In free government (free from monarchical rule), so Madison says, there must be debate, deliberation and discussion about going to war. However, since the rise of atomic weapons at the end of WWII, American presidents have laid greater claims to the right to use the countries military to carry out American foreign policy. Madison wrote: “There can be no harm in declaring, that standing armies in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought to be avoided, as far as it may be consistent with the protection of the community.” Madison feared that in general if there was a standing army, the government would always be tempted to use it.
When it comes the military and going to war, the U.S. Constitution puts the authority with Congress, not with the president:
“The congress shall have power
To lay and collect taxes, duties… to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States…
To declare war, to grant letters of marquee and reprisal…
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.
To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.” (U. S. Constitution)
Garry Wills contention is that since the creation of the atom bomb toward the end of WWII, the executive branch has usurped the Constitutional authority of congress by making warfare a normal way of conducting foreign policy, thus violating the Constitution. While almost every President since Truman has used these powers to engage in military conflicts by-passing congress in doing so and becoming ever more secretive about it, Wills thinks former Vice President Dick Cheney has pushed the executive grab for power harder than anyone. He attributes the disastrous fall of GW Bush’s popularity and failure of his policies as the direct result of Cheney’s effort which resulted in Barak Obama gaining the presidency. (He doesn’t see Obama as readily giving up the powers that Bush had claimed, which is part of the problem Wills is describing: each president claimed more powers to engage in war, to ever increasing secrecy, to usurping congressional powers, and few have tried to ever reverse the powers previous presidents have claimed for the executive branch. Congress did pass a War Powers Resolution in 1973 stating “The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities…” but Wills notes this is already congress surrendering its constitutionally defined power to the presidency. The War Powers Resolution gives tacit recognition to presidential violation of the constitution; congress is begging the presidents to share the power to maintain a military or go to war with congress whereas constitutionally these powers belong to congress alone! Dick Cheney opposed this resolution from when it was first proposed, not because he wants to defend the constitution, but on the contrary because he wanted the presidency to have exclusive power!).
The founding fathers created a constitution in which the powers of government were spread through three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) precisely to prevent a monarchical personage from emerging to control the government and the nation and to suppress democratic debate and deliberation. Big government consists not only of offering entitlements to some people, it also takes the form of ever usurping the powers granted to the three branches by the Constitution.