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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Review: "Crisis and Command" John Yoo's New Book Traces the Development of Presidential Power

And gives us a reminder of how essential a strong President is in time of war or crisis!

Our Ron Paul friends are fond of saying "read the constitution" as a reminder that only Congress has the power to declare war. Though sometimes we need to ask them if the copy they have contains Article Two which names the President as Commander in Chief and gives him vast powers to conduct foreign affairs.

Ever since the American Revolution there has been a not always gentle tug of war between the Congress and the chief executive. Remember how General Washington had to plead with Congress for money to pay the troops? The limits and boundaries of Executive and Legislative authority have evolved over time. This was part of the Founder's original plan as they expected the political winds of the day to change to meet new challenges.

John Yoo's new book "Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush " (Amazon.com)traces the development of presidential power through history using the example of five great Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Each shaped presidential power in his own way to meet specific extraordinary challenges that no Constitutional founder could have envisioned.

John Yoo at the Center of Tussle Over Bush Authority

In a day when we confront an enemy that has no state, wears no uniform and can not be appeased or negotiated with using diplomatic or economic means a new challenge was met by President George W. Bush with renewed reliance on the historic and evolving use of executive power. We all remember the battles Bush had with Congress over the use of Executive authority to combat terrorism after September 11th. John Yoo was at the epicenter of those battles. From 2001-2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security, and the separation of powers.

Yoo dealt in greater detail with the Bush use of presidential powers in two previous books, War by Other Means: An Insider's Account of the War on Terror and The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs after 9/11. This volume will be a great resource to those who are interested in the history of presidential power as it relates to crises in national security.

Yoo makes the case for a strong president to address these emergencies. It should be obvious that if it were left to Congress to make policy we'd have 535 Commanders in Chief each giving different orders. One might argue that the war on terror is another of those special challenges where a strong president is essential. Consider how we've seen that under Obama, who appears to be treating terrorism more as a criminal matter than his predecessor, the number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil has increased.

While not exactly a fan, here are the finer points of a review by Jack Rakove, writing in the Washington Post:

This is a deeply serious history of the presidency, sometimes selective in its emphasis, but always provocative and thoughtful. The recurring theme is how well the republic was served by the initiatives these leaders took.
...
The presidents we admire possessed a pronounced confidence in their authority. They were innovators and risk-takers, with an entire branch of government to command. They either faced challenges they could not afford to avoid or raised issues they insisted the nation must confront -- and their office alone had the capacity to focus the nation's attention as a result. They drove American politics in ways that no congressional statesman or jurist -- not even John Marshall or Earl Warren -- could ever equal.

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