“The current institutional equilibrium has led to a perverse place”

Will Congress now take some responsibilty?

syria-obama-mapAlong the lines of one of the themes of my post from the other day, I give you Scott Lemieux:

Whatever one thinks of the constitutional issues, Congress’s abdication of responsibility is a bad thing. The current institutional equilibrium has led to a perverse place where it’s enormously difficult for the president to appoint people to fill minor executive branch positions but he can bomb anything he likes with almost no prospect of congressional pushback. This is the wrong way around. Even if Congress thinks it’s washed its hands of responsibility through inaction, the legislative body shares the blame if there’s an attack on Syria that goes badly.

Indeed.

The whole piece is worth reading, as it deals with the slow abdication of war powers by Congress and also discusses the War Powers Resolution.

I would only add, as per the post linked above, that the constitutional order on this topic is so thoroughly grounded in an 18th century view of warfare that such abdication is practically baked into the institutional relationship between the two branches.

Consider the War Powers Resolution itself, which is the most dramatic attempt by the legislative branch to assert control over the executive in this realm.  First note that it was only able to be created in the context of some pretty serious crisis (the clear failure of the Viet Nam policy and in the context of a scandal-plagued White House).  Second, note how there has been roughly four decades of rhetorical battles over the legislation but with Congress unwilling to demonstrate that the legislation has any teeth.

As noted earlier, Congress now has a chance to demonstrate some responsibility on the Syria question.  How will they respond?  History (from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to the AUMF) does not suggest that they will assert themselves in a responsible fashion.  And note:  I do not define “responsible” in terms of rejecting Obama’s proposal (although I do think that that is the correct decisions).  I mean “responsible” in terms of actually giving the proposal a serious and mature examination rather than what is likely to happen:  some fulmination on the floor followed by more abdication of responsibility.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    “Fulmination on the floor followed by more abdication of responsibility” would be a step in the right direction compared to what we’ve seen lately.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    My guess is that The President may have decided that an attack on Syria wasn’t a very good idea after all. Congress started insisting on a vote and he gave it to them giving himself an out.

  3. @Dave Schuler: Agreed.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    That’s possible, but I suspect Congress will issue some mealy-mouthed endorsement with a lot of ass-covering platitudes attached.

    It’ll be fun watching McCain and Rand Paul attack each other, though.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    And what of poor Butters? How will he manage to act as McCain’s mini-me and still convince Tea Partiers that his first and greatest interest is in hating Obama?

    Were it not for the small fact that hundreds of Syrian children were murdered in their beds by an evil regime it would be great fun to watch the intra-party dynamics.

  6. Tyrell says:

    The president, Kerry, Hagel, and Biden have all as much as drawn lines in the sand and are bound to take some kind of action or they will be seen as ineffective. Other countries will take advantage of his kind of weakness and become even bolder: Iran, N. Korea, Egypt. What gets me is that all these years Cuba has tortured and killed far more people, and that being 90 miles away. There were other options that were available before drawing the lines: diplomacy, summit meetings, cease fires, embargoes.
    “Make him a deal he can’t refuse”

  7. @Tyrell: Because Egypt is just like Iran and North Korea? And what, exactly, was/is the United States supposed to do to liberate Cuba? The last invasion thing didn’t work out so well.

  8. rudderpedals says:

    @Timothy Watson: Cuba is no problema, just send Admiral Nelson, Stonewall Jackson, and Duke Nukem

  9. merl says:

    @Timothy Watson: @Timothy Watson: Don’t confuse the guy. Picking on the feeble minded is mean.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell:

    What gets me is that all these years Cuba has tortured and killed far more people, and that being 90 miles away.

    What gets me is why you bring this up now? Let’s see…. Kennedy (gets a wash because he did what you would like to be done I suspect), but Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush , and nooooowwwwww….. Obama, have done nothing about Cuba.

    And your point is???????????????????

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And just for the record, I have very little hope of Congress enforcing their Constitutional prerogatives. Why bother now? They haven’t done it since at least 1941.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    And just for the record, I have very little hope of Congress enforcing their Constitutional prerogatives. Why bother now? They haven’t done it since at least 1941

    More like 1913.

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    There were those in congress who wanted a strike and those who didn’t. Both sides have one thing in common – they didn’t want their fingerprints on it whatever the decision was. At the same time they said they wanted a vote even thought that was the last thing on earth they wanted. Obama called their bluff.

  14. Stonetools says:

    At least the ” Obama more unconstitutional than Bush” crowd can now STFU- for a few days, at least.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    Obama called their bluff.

    lol, Obama called his own bluff then went golfing….

  16. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If Congress does that (be wishy-washy), it gives the Obama Administration an excuse for any failures.

    The Obama Administration has put itself into a no-lose situation. If Congress votes against action, then Congress assumes responsibility for everything bad that will happen in Syria in the future. If Congress votes its approval but puts any limits or stipulations on the Obama Administration, then Congress have given the Obama Administration a excuse for any failures in the future and that excuse will be endlessly repeated in the MSM. If Congress votes approval and whatever the Obama Administration succeeds, then the Administration will take credit for the success and whatever Congress did will be forgotten.

    Obama’s advisers have found a way to not lose no matter what but this depends on how the MSM works with the Administration.

  17. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder if any of the big time pundits and wonks will notice that the CBC and CHC who have voted against military action (and defense spending overall) for forty years will now be the biggest supporters of the President. I suspect that no one will notice if the CBC throws their principles under the bus in order to support a black, Democrat president.

  18. JoshB says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Not to mention the republicans won’t count since we are on our way to a one-party state.

    Did that cover it? We now have race and one-party mentioned in the comments. Your day should be complete.

  19. superdestroyer says:

    @JoshB:

    Actually, the coming one party state, maybe more politicians will not feel the need to throw their principles under the bus for partisan purposes.

    However, in the long run the paleocons are probably going to get the foreign policy that they want but not for the reasons that they want it. As the U.S. becomes more diverse, a single party state, and when politics is about entitlements and how to pay for them, there will be little interest in foreign adventures. To the entitlement voters, every dollar spent on foreign adventures is a dollar that cannot be spent on entitlements and social welfare. Thus, as the U.S becomes more diverse, it will become more isolationist.

  20. Barry says:

    @Ron Beasley: “My guess is that The President may have decided that an attack on Syria wasn’t a very good idea after all. Congress started insisting on a vote and he gave it to them giving himself an out. ”

    Agreed. It’s actually a nice, smooth maneuver, out of a bad, self-imposed position.

  21. Barry says:

    @G.A.Phillips: “More like 1913. ”

    December 8, 1941.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @JoshB:

    Was there mention of brown babies? SuperD is particularly terrified of brown babies.

  23. Davebo says:

    @superdestroyer:

    As the U.S. becomes more diverse, a single party state

    What is hilarious is that you SuperD are most likely the only one who didn’t laugh their asses off at this line.

    Hell SuperD, brown folks for whom English is a second language are rolling in the aisles over that bit of pretzel logic!

    Understand, I’m not saying you’re an idiot (you’ve made that case yourself time and time again here) but you offer a certain comedy gold that Bill Cosby couldn’t match. But that’s probably just because he’s black.

  24. superdestroyer says:

    @Davebo:

    Maybe you should look at Chicago, at Washington DC, at Caliornia or at the city politics of virtually every large urban area in the U.S. As the U.S. becomes more diverse, it will become one of a one party state. Politics will become about entitlement and government jobs: who gets them, who pays for them, and who controls them. In should be obvious that in an entitlement driven government that foreign adventures will end. Every dollar that is spent on cruise missiles, warships, and military bases is a dollar that cannot be spent entitlements for the core groups inside the Democratic Party.

    Unless you can show an issue where blacks or Latinos or Asians or homosexuals or public sector employees split their support evenly, then it should be obvious that the U.S. is on a pathway to being a one party state.

    The way that liberal progressives, the CBC, the CHC, and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment are saying the same talking points in support of President Obama (its limited, its low risk, and it worked in LIbya), it should be obvious that the U.S. is becoming a one party state.

    Many writers have written about the huge demographic disadvantages that the Republicans are under but none of those writers ever carry the current demographic changes to their natural conclusion. All of those writers, pundits, and wonks assume that some unknown Republican will come along and be charismatic enough, intelligent enough, and capable enough to lead the Republican party into becoming some sort of successful Democratic-lite party. I just assume that the current level of incompetent, stupid, and short-sighted Republican leadership will continue and that the U.S. will become politically much more like California has become. I fail to see the pretzel logic in that.

  25. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @superdestroyer:

    As the U.S. becomes more diverse, it will become one of a one party state.

    Except for all those mid-20th Century eastern European countries, white people would never do that.

    A couple of things I can look forward to every day: the sun rising, a cup of coffee, and superdestroyer turning every topic into a racial issue.