- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition, First Printing edition (August 5, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805075933
- ISBN-13: 978-0805075939
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution Hardcover – July 14, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
At times, the latest addition to Holt's American Empire Project reads like a left-wing version of William Rehnquist's All The Laws but One (1998). Irons, a Supreme Court historian, picks up on many of the same cases that the Chief Justice examined, but where Rehnquist saw wartime necessity in curtailing civil liberties, Irons sees a pattern of presidential overreaching that federal judges have neglected to check. A chapter on the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War is a particularly forceful example of Irons's ability to build a persuasive argument rooted in constitutional case law. He also significantly expands the scope of the discussion beyond Rehnquist to include military actions launched by presidents without a formal declaration of war by Congress, including the recent invasion of Iraq and the treatment of suspected terrorists and other detainees. Here, Irons occasionally undercuts himself with inflammatory rhetoric, claiming, for example, that the first President Bush started the Gulf War as a public relations stunt. Similarly, his otherwise strong elaboration of the executive branch's Theodore Roosevelt–initiated seizing of power contains assertive "empire" moments that make the legalistic arguments a tougher sell than they need to be.
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For example, he argues that presidents before Polk all followed to the letter the Constitution's grant of declaring war to Congress - no unilateral presidential war-making. But in fact, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both undertook military actions without the consent of Congress. Is there a difference between those small wars and others? Irons never tells us.
Irons doesn't uncover anything new or make any original arguments. Don't buy it.
It starts with the Continental Congress and the positions of various delegates regarding executive powers.
Mr. Irons provides some pertinent quotes such as this from page 34-
"In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department".-James Madison.
An interesting aspect of his journey through presidential history is that some favorite presidents trespassed the Constitution on the issue of waging war and admitted doing so. Others like Wilson and Bush II viewed it far differently.
Mr. Irons explains that over the course of American political history it wasn't only Congress abdicating it's Constitutional duty that was partially at fault. The Supreme Court during different eras deferred to the president or simply avoided the issue by labeling it a "political issue".
He explains the correlation between corporate interests and the global network of military bases.
The author quoted one phrase from Justice Davis' 1866 writing on the Milligan case that bears repeating in this review. It's even more important today that it was 140 + years ago.
"The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances." -Justice David Davis.
As a book on imperial presidential ambitions and history, this book is unbiased.
It's a little dated (2005) but worth reading for understanding how war powers have been taken over by the executive branch and how the other two branches of government have reacted.
This book also examines how the executive branch has infringed on individual rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. One prime example he cites is the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII.
Presidents have asserted their right to use military force even against clear declarations by Congress. They have used John Locke's notion of the executive prerogative in foreign and military affairs to use military force without legislative sanction. They have tried to justify their military interventions by citing `vital interests' rooted in the demands of corporate and financial institutions for access to other nations' resources and markets.
Irons surveys the Mexican War of 1846, the USA's first aggression for empire, the Civil War, the USA's 1898 war against Spain, which led to the effective control of Cuba and the acquisition of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. He looks at the US intervention in the First World War, citing the great liberal Woodrow Wilson's view of absolute presidential power over foreign policy, and he notes that Wilson's adviser Elihu Root said, "We must have no criticism now", not even allowing the usual right of futile protest.
Then he examines the attacks on Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq. When Truman committed US troops to war in Korea he violated the UN Charter by ordering military action before the Security Council called for assistance and he violated the UN Participation Act by not getting Congress to approve his action. Similarly, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson never tried to get Congressional approval for their growing intervention in Vietnam.
Since 1945, no president has gone to Congress to seek a declaration of war, yet the US state has made wars in every decade and in every case there was enough time for Congress to debate and decide. In 2004, the American people, by a small majority, chose to delegate questions of war and peace to the commander-in-chief rather than to decide for themselves. The country must decide who is to be sovereign - the president or the people?