MAKING WAR: The 200-Year-Old Battle Between President and Congress Over the Way America Goes to War by John Lehman

MAKING WAR: The 200-Year-Old Battle Between President and Congress Over the Way America Goes to War

Email this review


Drawing heavily on his extensive government experience, Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, offers a highly polemical analysis of the tension between the legislative and executive branches in America's decisions to go to war. Lehman makes his own position clear from the outset--that the Presidency is uniquely suited to exercise the war-making power, and Congress suited only to exercise the power of the purse. To Lehman, the express constitutional power to declare war is a formality only: ""the real power of Congress was not one of declaration but of the purse,"" since ""a war could occur without a declaration...but it could not be fought if Congress refused to supply the funds for it."" The author contends that, because of its inefficiency, inability to keep secrets, and political pusillanimity, Congress cannot be trusted with national-security decision-making. Using examples drawn mostly from cold-war history, Lehman points out that Congress ratifies military action taken unilaterally by the President (even actions in apparent violation of the War Powers Act) when such action is successful, while asserting its prerogative to make war only when, as in Vietnam, military action is both unsuccessful and unpopular. Lehman lobbies vigorously for executive privilege, citing examples far removed from the war-making issue (for instance, he decries Congress's treatment of Reagan's EPA administrator, Anne Burford, who was held in contempt of Congress for asserting the Reagan Administration's right to withhold certain documents). Ultimately, Lehman argues persuasively that the Constitution does not clearly resolve the tension between the branches on the war-making power, and that the answer to the question of who makes war must be resolved by the vicissitudes of politics. An articulate presentation of the case that the Presidency has primacy in military and national-security affairs.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribners