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The Constitution is clear: the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, but Congress alone has the power to declare war. Yet, while war has been declared war only five times since the nation's birth, American forces have ...
The Constitution is clear: the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, but Congress alone has the power to declare war. Yet, while war has been declared war only five times since the nation's birth, American forces have taken part in more than two hundred armed conflicts, large and small, overt and covert, on orders from the commander in chief.
In Presidents at War, military historian Gerald Astor examines the history and evolution of the president's most crucial role. Focusing on the period following World War II, he traces the history of America's post-war conflicts and asks probing questions about the meaning and import of each event. Did the president overstep his authority? Could Congress have prevented the commander in chief's actions? Is the Constitution, despite its apparent clarity, deliberately ambiguous on these matters? Does the United States' role as a superpower nullify constitutional restraints and laws enacted by Congress on a president's executive authority?
Drawing on new interviews with current and former members of Congress, unpublished oral histories by senior military officers, official papers, and other literature, Astor analyzes presidential justification for the United States' military adventures. His investigation deals with major actions, such as Truman's "police action" in Korea and George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, as well as limited and covert measures, including Kennedy's Bay of Pigs invasion and Ronald Reagan's support for the Contras in El Salvador. While each of these presidents offered specific reasons for each action, an overriding theme emerges: as commander in chief, the president has assumed he has the authority to direct American military and paramilitary actions as he sees fit.
At the center of Astor's discussion are the Vietnam War, which involved four successive presidents, and an escalating series of actions taken under the commander-in-chief authority by George W. Bush in the current war in Iraq. Even more troubling, many of the commander in chief's specific justifications for and descriptions of these actions are now known to have been exaggerated or even false.
Are there no limits on a commander in chief's power to take military action without congressional consultation? Would any such limitation endanger the nation in times of crisis? Astor makes numerous suggestions that would allow Congress to exercise its constitutional obligations without hamstringing the president during an emergency.
Few issues have a greater impact on the United States and the world than the president's prerogative to take military action. Presidents at War is the only book that tackles this complex and singularly important subject head on.
Introduction: Commander in Chief.
1 The Evolution of War Powers and Precedents.
2 World War I, World War II.
3 The Truman Years.
4 The Reign of Ike.
5 Camelot’s Commander in Chief.
6 The Missile Crisis.
7 Resolution and Reverberations.
8 LBJ, Part of the Way.
9 Down the Slope.
10 Toward Peace with Honor.
11 Pieces of Peace.
12 The Bitter End.
13 Iran, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.
14 Beirut, Central America, and Iran.
16 Bush One.
17 Nation-Building and Genocide.
18 Prevention and Retaliation.
19 Between Iraq and Hard Places.
20 Winning the War, Fighting On.
21 Power and Abdication.
Posted August 7, 2012