« Woodward is Woodward | Main | The Return of Doolittle and Delay »

Cheney and the Paradox of Executive Power

The manic nature of the Bush/Cheney pushback against its multiplying number of critics is revealed in one aspect of Vice President Cheney"s speech at AEI Monday. Cheney said,

Some of the most irresponsible comments have come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities. (Laughter.) And they were free to reach their own judgments based upon the evidence. 

Without getting into the details of exactly who had what information when, what makes that sentence so jarring is that the fundamental philosophy of Bush and Cheney -- and to a lesser degree their predecessors in the White House -- is that members of Congress, in their view, should absolutely not be "free to reach their own judgments" on matters of foreign policy and national security. Rather, advocates of executive branch power argue, the president is due substantial deference on all these questions. After all, to quote the cliche of all executive-branch defenders, "we can't have 535 Secretaries of State." The need to act with a uniform national voice, especially in a crisis, together with the fact that members of Congress will have neither complete intelligence information nor the giant organization needed to properly cull, evaluate, and reach a decision about it, is a strong argument in favor of deference to the executive.

And deference to the executive means that, unless their own judgments strongly counsel a different direction, members of Congress generally will vote to give the president the authorization or flexibility to act, even if they would not have made the same decision themselves. And most legislators operate from that principle. For example, there is no doubt that most of the Democrats, and probably many of the Republicans, who voted to authorize force would not themselves have launched the same war in the same way had they been president, but that was not the standard they used.
This White House takes a particularly far-out view of executive power, explained well by David Cole in his recent New York Review of Books article about the theories of John Yoo, now a Berkeley law professor but better known as the White House lawyer who authored the key "torture memo." Yoo believes, for example, that the Constitutional provision giving Congress the power to "declare war" means only that Congress can "declare" -- as in, observe -- that a war seems to have begun. (Cole's important article is reprinted here.)
While Yoo's theories, along with the related "unitary executive" doctrine associated with Cheney's new chief of staff David Addington, are extreme and novel defenses of the "Imperial Presidency," the basic idea that the president deserves substantial deference on foreign policy is not unusual, and not even that controversial. Members of Congress know that, even in the unlikely event that they had access to 90% of the intelligence information available to the president, they don't have the independent capacity to analyze, prioritize and interpret it, and even if they did, how could the country act in a crisis if 535 legislators came to different conclusions? (The Vice President, who demanded and received raw intelligence data, apparently had no such hesitation about his own small staff's ability to analyze and interpret such information more accurately than the entire professional system, but that's neither here nor there.)
The implication of strong executive-branch powers in foreign affairs is that, if the president is entitled to substantial deference, he also bears equivalent responsibility for the choices he or she makes. If Cheney actually believes that the politicians who voted to allow Bush to use force bear equal responsibility because "they were free to reach their own judgments," then he is implicitly accepting a foreign policy regime in which individual members of Congress are co-equal decision-makers with the President. It is obvious from everything Yoo and Addington and others have written and said that they do not believe this. It's an attack line, and the fact that it contradicts Cheney's most basic philosophy is irrelevant to them.
Those who favor strong executive power over foreign policy should recognize that that position is controversial mostly because of presidents who have abused that power. Tonkin Gulf and the secret bombing of Cambodia led to the War Powers Resolution, which even Clinton did not accept as constitutional. At the end of the day -- although it might take years -- the Iraq invasion is likely to cause a similar backlash. Cheney's implicit acceptance of the idea that members of Congress should bear equal responsibility in decision-making will feed that backlash.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 22, 2005 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Cheney and the Paradox of Executive Power:

» Late Night from CommonSenseDesk
Some late night stuff for your reading pleasure. Charlie Quimby looks at a South Dakota effort that will permit citizens to prosecute judges for unpopular verdicts. Charlie links to some other places that will provide background. Take the time to [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 22, 2005 11:32:09 PM

» Cell Phones from mobilebum.info
News and ... Sep News of Safety phones, new cell phone phones Cell time ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 8, 2006 5:26:10 PM

» Drugs & Supplements from Drug Information and Supplement Information

Tracked on Apr 14, 2006 9:06:38 AM

» RadioShack 1Q Profit Plummets 85 Percent (AP) from first-quarter
and inventory. Its shares briefly sank to a 52-week low but rebounded later in [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2006 9:11:11 PM

» It's Bad to Be the King from a violent revolt
a violent revolt threatens to end the monarchy, Nepal eyes an anarchic future [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2006 3:37:56 AM

» The Interactive NGC Catalog Online from Official Catalog
The Interactive NGC Catalog Online. This is the interactive NGC (and IC, and Messier) catalog at SEDS, based on the famous NGC 2000.0 by RW Sinnott of Sky ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2006 4:09:10 PM

» Sony to take next stab at iPod killer from Apple shipped
billion in the year earlier. SEE ALSO: Microsoft fixes nixed, D-Link routers bollixed Apple suit comes to a head, BlackBerry [Read More]

Tracked on May 1, 2006 4:47:30 AM

» Finding Information on the Internet from Net Search
The University of California Berkeley recommends search strategies, explains search tools, and gives guidance on evaluating and citing web pages... [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2006 4:36:50 AM

» Genetics Researcher Wins $500,000 Award from genetics researcher
genetics researcher gets nation's richest prize in medicine and biomedical research [Read More]

Tracked on May 4, 2006 4:13:08 PM

» Find search engines across the world with Search Engine from World Search
Gain quick, efficient access to search engines from countries around the world with Search Engine Colossus - International Directory of Search Engines. [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2006 10:35:41 PM

» Job Search from Directory with Free People Search
Perform a quick job search using Job Bank USA's powerful job search engine. ... Thank you for using Job Bank USA's employment search services and job search ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2006 10:50:01 AM

» Military veterans wage war against obesity from survived a rocket
survived a rocket attack in Da Nang in the ’60s. Today he is fighting a new enemy: obesity. [Read More]

Tracked on May 18, 2006 2:38:59 PM

» Каталог Google - World > Russian from Каталог интернет-ресурсов
Справка по Каталог Искать в Блоги Поиск в Интернете ... Russian > Компьютеры > Интернет > В сети > Блоги, На главную страницу Каталога: [русский] [English] ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2006 11:20:38 AM

» Dictionary Search Page from Dictionary Search
An unabridged dictionary from aalii to zymurgy, including a pronunciation guide... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2006 2:45:46 PM

» Die Schweizer Suchmaschine from dir.pogovorim.com
Suchmaschine fr die Schweiz mit regionaler Volltextsuche (im domain und in weiteren Sites mit... [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2006 12:31:37 AM

» Northeastern Rural Electric Membership Corporation Implements Advanced Field GIS from adpole Technology
adpole Technology Provides Its Mobile GIS Solutions Based on ArcGIS Engine [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2006 9:54:50 PM

» consolidation loan student from estate loan real
Loans Home Equity Loans - Home Mortgage Student Loans [Read More]

Tracked on May 30, 2006 1:49:59 AM

» News Release from Technosim
ITmedia Mobile i ASCII24@nifty FMOBILE Watch. ి... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 2, 2006 7:39:30 PM

» News Online from JapanHorse
Features weekly articles, archives to past issues, and timelines of scientific importance. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 2, 2006 9:10:07 PM

» Sam Smith: Wild, Wild West Could Get Wilder from in slowing the
high-octane attack, writes Sam Smith in the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The Suns, after winning Game 1 121-118, scored 98 and 88 [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 7, 2006 6:07:48 PM

» Whole Brain Radiation Doesn't Aid Brain Cancer Survival from Category: Health
Survival Category: Health News Created: 6/7/2006 1:57:00 AM Last Editorial Review: 6/7/2006 [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 9, 2006 4:07:15 AM

» Child dies in ambulance accident from boy is killed
boy is killed in an accident involving an ambulance which was on a nursery school visit. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 10, 2006 7:37:18 AM

» Indian authorities shut down Hardest Working Man in Auto Smuggling from In India,
admitted to his crimes and made some financial reparations. [Source: Mumbai Mirror] Read | Permalink [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2006 6:47:30 AM

» home loan from
Loans Home Equity Loans - Home Mortgage Student Loans [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2006 10:21:29 PM

» Silent Crys from a paragraph of
This is only a paragraph of the story. The finished results with be much longer ... ... and im only 15 [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 28, 2006 8:05:57 PM

» Best Catalog from Web Catalog Online
Best Online Catalog [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 1, 2006 12:49:54 PM

» Best Search Center from Best Search Center
Related Searches [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 2, 2006 10:33:35 AM

» States and Capitals from All USA States
State information resource links to state homepage, symbols, flags, maps, constitutions, ... All Rights Reserved. Press Ctrl - D to bookmark this page. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2006 9:25:29 AM

» Strong retail sales push UK Q2 GDP higher from accelerated unexpectedly
unexpectedly to its fastest rate in two years in the second quarter of 2006. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 25, 2006 4:01:43 AM

» People Search in Internet 2006 from Plot Summary for Words
Words - Cast, Crew, Reviews, Plot Summary, Comments, Discussion, Taglines, Trailers, Posters, Photos, Showtimes, Link to Official Site, Fan Sites. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2006 5:35:53 PM

» london reinsurance from People searching
Searchable keywords online... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2006 5:51:58 PM

» Wiki: Search Results from MostDor
Search Results · WelcomeVisitors . . . . . . WhatIsWiki WhatIsWiki . . . . . . WhatIsWiki. 2 pages found out of 22 pages searched. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 3, 2006 12:41:54 PM

» clinique from clinique: Read reviews and compare prices
Shop our selection of Clinique fragrances and cosmetics online. ... Search results for "clinique". Item 1 to 10 out of 580 Show all, sorted by Popularity ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 4, 2006 4:29:36 PM

» Successful Realtor Offers Tips on Staging the Inside of a Home from realtor Kathleen
[Read More]

Tracked on Aug 7, 2006 3:34:39 PM

» Bvlgari from Bvlgari Watches
Great Saving On Bvlgari Watches Bulgari Watch Bvlgari Assioma, Bulgari Zero1, Bulgari Watch Tubagas, Bvlgari Diagono Aluminium, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2006 9:05:57 AM

» Popular phrase from Map Directory
A search engine directory map... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 13, 2006 9:58:41 AM

» Ru-Энциклопедия from Words 2005-2006
Most Popular Words from Internet... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 16, 2006 2:35:18 PM


Well, not to put too fine a point on it but it's nice they're talking about all the democrats who voted for the Resolution back in 2002. It's not as if they weren't bum-rushed to the decision with only weeks to go before the mid-terms election. No better time for reflection and reasoned debate than the few weeks before an election.

Posted by: liberalMinded | Nov 22, 2005 11:24:49 PM

Thanks, Decembrist, for a wise and well-reasoned response to the administration's claim: "They had the same intelligence we did and they voted to go to war."

Of course, any member of Congress who voted against giving Bush authority to declare war would have been labeled unpatriotic and weak on terrorism. I suspect that sealed the decision for many of them.

Posted by: Lucy99 | Nov 24, 2005 11:56:53 PM

Looks good...
But, do you remember guys that Xmas is coming soon?
You can find exclusive gifts at :


Dont forget about Christmas and your family!

Posted by: Def | Nov 27, 2005 1:33:10 AM

Obvously, the modern presidency is dead and Bush's gratuitous invocation of unchecked executive discretion has sealed the deal. It must be a generational thing but I find it increasingly strange that well-to-do boomers continue to revere Cheney's alleged technocratic gravitas. If they truly had the courage of their convictions the Bush/Cheney machine wouldn't be trying to frantically insultate itself by invoking ambiguous notions of "history," as if the impact of their decisions won't be felt by those of us that hope to hang around for the next 50 years or so.

Posted by: fnook | Nov 28, 2005 12:08:43 AM

The issue is being side stepped. They all had adequate information to make a decision at that time. If Bush lied and "tricked" the country into a war then they should offer proof and stop with the revisionist history. It is interesting that they don't even trust their own peers who found no concealed information.

Posted by: scott | Nov 28, 2005 12:17:46 PM

For all the reasons you listed in the first couple of paragraphs, I do believe that the Executive should be given deference and flexibilty in questions regarding National Security. However, this only underscores the importance of a White House that honors this awesome responsibilty with integrity, honesty and competence - virtues the Bush regime seems genetically incapable of having.

Posted by: Rob | Nov 28, 2005 2:48:57 PM

Various sources have already pointed out that Congressmen who voted for the war DID NOT have access to the same intelligence that the President and his people had. Eg. Congress only got assessments containing very alarming and dangerous information from the source codenamed Curveball concerning Saddam's supposed reconstituted nuclear capabilities. Not one senator or representatve however, was given the accommpanying info that the White House saw from German Intelligence and CIA officials doubting the veracity of Curveball's claims and that, indeed, they thought he was mentally unstable.
Also, Congress DID NOT have access to the Presidential Daily Briefings or CIA reports now leaked to the public that asserted that Saddam did not have any ties to Al Quada and that, in fact, he consideered Bin Laden and Co. as mortal enemies.
The war's critics are not rewriting history. We are simply waking up to a reality that you refuse to see.

Posted by: Rob | Nov 28, 2005 2:59:19 PM

Post a comment