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Friday, June 17, 2011

Deliberation and the War Power

Former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton recently wrote a Washington Post op-ed lamenting political friction in matters of national security. At The Weekly Standard, Benjamin Kleinerman and Vincent Phillip Muñoz take a different view:

Why did the Founders want to encourage constitutional conflict in matters of war? Each branch was designed to possess particular capacities and exercise certain virtues. But if left unchecked, each branch might misuse the powers entrusted to it.

The president was designed to lead in foreign affairs. The singularity of his office allows him to act quickly, decisively and, if necessary, with secrecy to protect and advance the nation's security. This is why the Constitution makes the president commander in chief. For the efficient and effective use of power, one person with one voice must be in charge of representing and defending the nation and its interests.

But the concentration of such enormous power in one man's hands is dangerous. While one man can act quickly and decisively, many minds and diverse points of view are necessary for thorough deliberation and democratic representation. Thus the framers gave Congress clear constitutional authority over the declaration of war and over the funding of war.

Our actions in Libya, and the corresponding political conflict it has engendered, evince the virtues of our Constitution. Decisive action, such as the decision to attack Libya when Gadhafi was attacking his own people, is an essential component to a successful foreign policy. But it is not the only component of a successful foreign policy. The wisdom, strategic value, and costs of such ventures must be considered and debated in light of our nation's other obligations and interests. This is the province of Congress. Its size and representative nature allows it to investigate, deliberate, and evaluate. It can ask and debate the tough questions about our foreign policy for which the president does not have time.

The presidency is designed for action. Congress is designed for deliberation. At times, presidential decisiveness will necessarily come into conflict with legislative deliberativeness. This need not trouble us. If a situation calls more for "energy" and speed, the president will likely win. If the situation calls for more deliberation and more circumspection, Congress will likely win. The struggle for constitutional authority, which Baker and Hamilton lament, is actually the healthy exercise of two different constitutional virtues — both of which need a hearing.