Friday, November 04, 2005

Time To Constrain The President

It's no secret that Vice President Richard Cheney entered office with quite an agenda. Upon arrival, he and his office focused immediately on two major issues: energy and Iraq. To move these issues forward, Vice President Cheney needed to recapture a considerable amount of power from Congress and the bureaucracy and place it in the hands of his nominal boss, George Bush. Indeed, Adriel Bettleheim, writing in Congressional Quarterly in 2002, reported that Cheney, "considers it the responsibility of the current administration to reclaim those lost powers for the institution of the presidency." Indeed.

Cheney's success, however, has damaged America's democracy. We've been sold a strategically foolish war on undeniably false pretenses, and last week's indictments show that the administration is actively obstructing the investigation into those actions. Furthermore, major threats to America are going unaddressed: global warming, nuclear proliferation, America 's indebtedness.

So it should not be too much of a stretch to assert that restoring confidence in America's national security process will be a major element of the coming elections. Three recent items examine how this might be done from a variety of angles.

First, from Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's longtime chief of staff. Wilkerson—in a speech at the New America Foundation in which he famously described the Cheney and Rumsfeld cabal running roughshod over the national security policy making process—also called for the remedy. Wilkerson sees the need for a major reform of the national security bureaucracy on the order of the changes made in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols reorganization of the Department of Defense.

Where Goldwater-Nichols finally forced the armed services into "jointness," Wilkerson wants to see a unity of effort between all the various arms of U.S. foreign policy. In a tantalizing preview, Wilkerson even called for a merger of the Departments of State and Defense. In that scenario, the power concentrated now in our regional combatant commanders, as well as the extraordinary system of career education and training, would be coordinated with our regional economic policies and subordinated to a single, unified foreign policy. Right now, because of the outsized budget and myriad capabilities of the Pentagon, Wilkerson sees the State Department becoming increasingly irrelevant. The solution, therefore, is to massively expand the civilian control of the military by making the Department of State the civilian bosses of the military within a new unified structure.

Michele Flournoy and Shawn Brimley have a complementary take on the issue of formalizing and unifying control of our national security architecture. Writing about the utility of restoring the national security planning processes of Eisenhower, called the Solarium Exercises, Flournoy and Brimley make a strong case that America needs a Quadrennial National Security Review. Again, like Wilkerson, the authors are taking a page out of the Pentagon's playbook. This time it is by adapting the Quadrennial Defense Review process to the interagency realm. In practice, the entire national security community of the U.S. government would be mandated by law to complete a rigorous and transparent strategic planning process. That top-level process would then lay out the roles and goals for the individual agencies and departments and set hard strategic targets by which to measure progress.

This plan is perhaps more politically palatable, as it preserves well-guarded bastions of power within the executive and legislative branches. Unfortunately, it requires that Congress remain vigilant in its oversight and insist that succeeding presidents implement the Quadrennial review process. Wilkerson's plan, once legislated, relies on the logic of hierarchy to make it run.

Finally, there is today's op-ed in the New York Times by Andrew Bacevitch, a professor of security studies at Boston University Whereas Wilkerson, Flournoy and Brimley call for bureaucratic checks on the power of the Presidency, Bacevitch calls for Congress to stand up to its constitutionally-mandated role to decide whether or not to declare war. Bacevitch sees Bush and Cheney as having revived the Cold War presidential powers. Back then, the national consensus on the Soviet threat allowed presidents to deploy troops and launch wars without Congress ever formally declaring war. Eisenhower and Kennedy got us into Vietnam without any explicit congressional authorization and it was not until the Tonkin Gulf incident that Congress even acted, at which point Johnson believed he had a blank check.

As Bacevitch notes, Bush and Cheney have shaped the narrative of their war on terror such that it is again an open-ended war based on a blank-check Congressional resolution from September 18, 2001. Yet as I've written in this space before, leading international strategists—moderates and liberals—are now recognizing that the war on terror cannot be the centerpiece of our grand strategy. In other words, the consensus of fear that ruled in the wake of 9/11 has ended.

Now, with the White House enfeebled by the indictment of Scooter Libby and the ongoing investigation into the Plame affair and with Iraq on the verge of civil war, the case for a massive reform of the national security decision making process is clear.

Of course, no amount of process or org-charting can substitute for an ironclad consensus around America's purpose. Yet, while we work on that larger problem, foreign policy specialists really need to focus on getting the machinery back into working condition. Our democracy depends on it.

--Patrick Doherty |
We were thinking in terms of restraint; 4 point restraint.
We are not sure, however, that the Departments of State and Defense should be made into one. Isn't that only compounding the problem? Besides, it would not have stopped what has happened. Any administration that comes into office with a hidden agenda, perhaps even a criminal one, will make their appointments according to the lay of the land, will they not?
Why spend money we don't have right now, re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
Unless there is Congressional over-sight and rigorous, serious journalism, it won't make any difference if we create the Grand Committee of Loony-toons out of State and Defense. (Oops, sorry.. apparently that has been done, already.)
Of course, all of this is just a fun game of mental Twister, unless we have serious campaign and election reform.
Best Idea: Get the money the hell out of politics and go with low tech voting; pencil and paper.


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