WHO MAKES WAR: The President Versus Congress by Jacob K. Javits

WHO MAKES WAR: The President Versus Congress

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When, in 1964, the Senate passed its infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution -- Senator Javits was not among the (two-member) opposition, although he has since publically recanted for his lack of legislative vigilance. His sponsored War Powers Act -- requiring Congressional approval for any hostilities continuing beyond a 30-day period -- is the proffered antidote against future Vietnams, and his book -- ""an effort to survey and analyze, for the general public, the evolution of an historical trend"" -- reads like his homework for the bill. ""There adheres in the Presidency. . . today too much power over war for the security of freedom"" Javits states, and few can reject his trepidations out of hand. Executive power in this area -- at the expense of Congress -- has been gathering, like a thundercloud, since Thomas Jefferson, that strict constitutionalist, built a navy to subdue the Barbary Coast, galloping forward under the strong administrations of Lincoln (the Emancipation Proclamation), Theodore Roosevelt (""I took Panama""), Woodrow Wilson (the incident at Vera Cruz) and FDR (Lend Lease). Javits blames the times and national imperatives (""history made in the framework of stark reality"") rather than the men, but he is inclined to look back to that golden age when the Founding Fathers, a sagacious Sanhedrin, inscribed the Constitution, with its neatly separated powers, on a sacred tablet. If questioned on these matters Javits himself would doubtlessly not deny that the Constitution is open to interpretation and often obsolete or silent; concentrating exclusively on the tilt of constitutional power in favor of the Presidency, he ignores the greater danger of the use of executive authority to create agencies and install power wielders like Kissinger who are virtually exempt from Congressional supervision and confirmation. Perhaps all that Javits is suggesting here is that Congress be a better watchdog -- he goes no farther in his prescriptions than his ultimately ineffectual Act, refusing -- even theoretically -- to consider the possibility that for the legislature to acquire any meaningful control over the Executive, we might require a parliamentary rather than presidential system.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1973
Publisher: Morrow