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Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11 Hardcover – March 12, 2012
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Here, however, is my question for Goldsmith: Is this equilibrium, this partial reversion to a slightly different mean, actually stable? Have we reached institutional settlement in 2012? Or will things that looked fairly settled and stabilized in 2012 under the Obama administration suddenly look a lot less stable in 2013, if there were, for example, a Romney administration? As advocacy groups continue to call for prosecutions and investigations, either here or abroad, of Bush era officials - Human Rights Watch, for example, in a recent report - in ways that look frankly fringe given the position of the Obama administration, will all that suddenly look more palatable if there were a Republican administration - and Democrats who swallowed hard, but refused to take up real cudgels against "their" administration suddenly realize they no longer have a stake in the "institutional settlement"?
I believe that this is the single "must-read" book in 2012 on the presidency and presidential power and national security.
Jack Goldsmith makes a good case that traditional checks and balances are still very much at play. What we see in the media is that nobody above the rank of sergeant went to prison over Abu Ghraib, and nobody’s been tried for what in retrospect was probably torture in CIA prisons. I still find that shocking, but no matter how Teflon-coated our policy makers appear in the media, the author explains that behind the scenes each new scandal results in a flurry of activity. One of the results is that every branch of government has newer and tighter policies, plus a veritable army of in-house lawyers whose job it is to enforce compliance.
As we read about widespread NSA surveillance of our phone calls and emails (as revealed by Edward Snowden after this book’s publication), and as we see the defenders of those policies seeming to prevail in Congressional hearings, it is comforting to know that despite the appearance of unchecked power, behind the scenes these same people are scurrying to make their activities more acceptable to the courts, the Congress, and American public. It may be that in their minds it’s just window dressing, but the result according to Goldsmith is serious and long-lasting constraints.
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This is one of the best, most thoughtful books I have read in recent years. The subject is timely and presents a unique analysis that I had not previously considered. Read morePublished on October 21, 2012 by James G. Garner