That is precisely why they took extra care to parse the war powers in the constitution, assigning the conduct of war and command of the troops to the president, but retaining for the Congress the crucial power of deciding whether or not, and when, our nation might decide to go war.

Indeed, this limitation on the power of the executive to make war was seen as crucially important. James Madison wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, ?The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature.?

In more recent decades, the emergence of new weapons that virtually eliminate the period of time between the decision to go to war and the waging of war have naturally led to a reconsideration of the exact nature of the executive?s war-making power. But the practicalities of modern warfare which necessarily increase the war powers of the President at the expense of Congress do not render moot the concerns our founders had so long ago that the making of war by the president ? when added to his other powers ? carries with it the potential for unbalancing the careful design of our constitution, and in the process, threatening our liberty.

They were greatly influenced ? far more than we can imagine ? by a careful reading of the history and human dramas surrounding the democracies of ancient Greece and the Roman republic. They knew, for example, that democracy disappeared in Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in violation of the Senate?s long prohibition against a returning general entering the city while still in command of military forces. Though the Senate lingered in form and was humored for decades, when Caesar impoliticly combined his military commander role with his chief executive role, the Senate ? and with it the Republic ? withered away. And then for all intents and purposes, the great dream of democracy disappeared from the face of the Earth for seventeen centuries, until its rebirth in our land.

Symbolically, President Bush has been attempting to conflate his commander-in-chief role and his head of government role to maximize the power people are eager to give those who promise to defend them against active threats. But as he does so, we are witnessing some serious erosion of the checks and balances that have always maintained a healthy democracy in America.

Categories: Politics