Long Wars and the Constitution

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In a wide-ranging constitutional history of presidential war decisions from 1945 to the present, Stephen M. Griffin rethinks the long-running debate over the “imperial presidency” and concludes that the eighteenth-century Constitution is inadequate to the challenges of a post-9/11 world.

The Constitution requires the consent of Congress before the United States can go to war. Truman’s decision to fight in Korea without gaining that consent was unconstitutional, says Griffin, but the acquiescence of Congress and the American people created a precedent for presidents to claim autonomy in this arena ever since. The unthinking extension of presidential leadership in foreign affairs to a point where presidents unilaterally decide when to go to war, Griffin argues, has destabilized our constitutional order and deranged our foreign policy. Long Wars and the Constitution demonstrates the unexpected connections between presidential war power and the constitutional crises that have plagued American politics.

Contemporary presidents are caught in a dilemma. On the one hand are the responsibilities handed over to them by a dangerous world, and on the other is an incapacity for sound decisionmaking in the absence of interbranch deliberation. President Obama’s continuation of many Bush administration policies in the long war against terrorism is only the latest in a chain of difficulties resulting from the imbalances introduced by the post-1945 constitutional order. Griffin argues for beginning a cycle of accountability in which Congress would play a meaningful role in decisions for war, while recognizing the realities of twenty-first century diplomacy.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrew J. Bacevich
In this troubling book, Stephen Griffin persuasively demonstrates the inadequacy of the Constitution as a basis for exercising militarized global leadership. More troubling still, he shows that in pretending otherwise, successive administrations, in collaboration with Congress, have done untold damage to our political system while forging national security policies that are deeply defective.
Sanford Levinson
Long Wars and the Constitution is one of the most important books on constitutional theory in a long time and should fundamentally reshape the debate about presidential authority to embark on wars without Congressional approval.
Mark Tushnet
Stephen Griffin weaves legal, historical, and political analysis together to cast the constitutional order from 1945 to the present in a new and deeply informative light. His discussion of why Presidents have come to dominate war-making, and how that produces recurrent constitutional crises, is a major contribution to understanding how the Constitution works today.
Choice - J. Michael Bitzer
In presenting a legal and constitutional understanding of war powers, Griffin challenges the assumptions and perspectives of presidential and congressional scholars when it comes to post-9/11 war efforts and the struggle over war powers. In evaluating post-9/11 military decisions, Griffin presents a critical reevaluation of the pre-9/11 era, shaped by the Cold War. In going back to 1945 and demonstrating the decision-making processes of both presidents and legislators, Griffin convincingly contends that Cold War events reshaped the way that military actions were conducted, challenging previous ideas about military engagements. In the end, Griffin presents a well-developed argument for envisioning the Constitution’s role in military operations, and how the executive and legislative branches react and engage with each other over military engagements. In reimagining the Constitution’s role and the balance between presidential decision making and legislative accountability, Griffin critiques the post-Cold War approach to American military engagement and contends that a new ‘cycle of accountability’ would regain some constitutional balance between the two branches that oversee the nation's war activities. In doing so, Griffin brings a credible approach that will generate debate among scholars of presidential, congressional, and diplomatic/foreign policy studies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674058286
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 6/10/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 1,402,878
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen M. Griffin is Rutledge C. Clement, Jr., Professor in Constitutional Law at Tulane Law School.
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