The Most Terrible Power of All Concentrated in One Man

In response to a reader question, Matthew Yglesias says that if President Bush so decides, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent air strikes against Iran (“By Request: What if Bush Bombs Iran?,” TheAtlantic.com, 1 July 2008):

… if Bush orders air strikes against Iranian targets, nobody can stop him. A plain reading of the text of the U.S. Constitution would seem to suggest that it would be unconstitutional for the military to follow any such order absent a declaration of war or some other form of congressional authorization. But the settled precedent, ratified by key Democratic Party leaders as recently as the bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis, is that no such authorization is necessary. I’m not happy with this situation and think it’s crazy that we as a country have moved away from the constitutional procedure, but the cat’s been out of the bag for a while now and if Bush wants to bomb Iran Bush will bomb Iran.

Democracy is based in part on a notion of the wisdom of crowds — or in the negative formulation, it is based on the recognition of the perfidy of powerful men. It is terrifying to think that when it comes to the most fateful questions facing a nation — the most terrible expenditure of the nations resources a country might undertake, one that throws the very survival of the country into the pot, one capable of completely remaking the social order of a people — we have abdicated that power to a single man.

On the right there is this constant carping about the founders’ intent, originalism, strict constitutionalists and activist judges, but when it comes to this issue, perhaps the most gross violation of the founders’ intent and the plain language of the Constitution, Republicans are complete subscribers to the cult of the great leader — at least until that power passes to a Democratic president, that is.

This is one of the reasons that I like The American Conservative. They actually see this situation for the massive threat to American liberties and the American way of life that it is.

Some future president, less ambitious, more moderating, ought return to the traditional confines of the office and forfeit this unofficial power. And a Congress more attune to it’s Constitutional duty than to it’s party platform ought to reassert this prerogative by threatening impeachment to any president who dares usurp it.

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