Presidents at War: From Truman to Bush, The Gathering of Military Powers To Our Commanders in Chief

Presidents at War: From Truman to Bush, The Gathering of Military Powers To Our Commanders in Chief

by Gerald Astor
     
 

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"It is now established as an irreversible precedent, that the President of the United States has but to declare that War exists, with any Nation upon Earth, by act of that Nation's Government, and the War is essentially declared."
—John Quincy Adams on the start of the Mexican War

The Constitution is clear: the president is commander in chief of the

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Overview

"It is now established as an irreversible precedent, that the President of the United States has but to declare that War exists, with any Nation upon Earth, by act of that Nation's Government, and the War is essentially declared."
—John Quincy Adams on the start of the Mexican War

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Drawing on new interviews with current and former members of Congress, unpublished oral histories by senior military officers, official papers, and other literature, Astor analyzes presidential justification for the United States' military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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
World War II veteran, journalist, and military historian Astor (The Jungle War) examines the many roles of U.S. presidents as commanders in chief. Following a foreword by Congressman John P. Murtha, Astor examines how the position of military leader has evolved since World War II, how individual presidents have defined the role, and the wartime factors that have molded this aspect of the presidency. He exhaustively documents wartime presidential powers, using firsthand presidential accounts to provide detailed and personal background on presidential decisions to go into battle. Although he sometimes gets tied down in too much detail, he does get the message across that individual presidents are strengthening their role as commander in chief and wielding more power to bring the American armed forces into battle without the traditional declaration of war by Congress. Recommended for academic libraries.-Jenny Emanuel, Central Missouri State Univ. Lib., Warrensburg Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471696551
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
08/18/2006
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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