Once upon a time Congress did things like stopping the Vietnam War. It’s been a long time, though, since it’s done anything close to that worthwhile. From Harry Blain at antiwar.com:
Congress ended the Vietnam war, exposed horrific CIA and FBI abuses, and halted them. Where’s that energy now?
The U.S. Congress has power over two very important things: money and information.
It can, in theory and practice, end a war by refusing to fund it. It can (and has!) compelled the leading architects of American foreign policy – CIA directors, national security advisors, secretaries of defense – to answer for their uses and abuses of executive power publicly and under oath.
As anyone who has served in it will tell you, Congress has never experienced a “golden age” of dispassionate bipartisanship or attachment to high principle. Yet, its recent failures seem to reflect dangerous signs of decay: the rubber-stamping of a new CIA director implicated in the worst excesses of the agency’s torture program; the inability to even moderately question wars that have comfortably outlasted Vietnam; and almost total indifference to arms deals struck by the White House.
The story of how and why we got here is a vivid illustration of our deepening political dysfunction. But it also hints at how Congress can be renewed at a time when we desperately need it.
“An Invitation to Struggle”
As with so many key questions, the US constitution gives mixed answers on the role of Congress in American foreign policy.
Countless books and articles have been written on the subject, but the basic problem is this: The president gets the imperious job title of “commander-in-chief,” while his puny legislators reserve the power to declare and fund wars.
Because the summer of 1787 was hot, and some of our saintly “framers” either stopped paying attention, got drunk, or went home as the supreme law of the land was being written, fundamental tensions like these were never resolved. Instead, an “invitation to struggle” awaited future generations.
Historically, this “struggle” has exhibited some common features: our esteemed members of Congress becoming peculiarly concerned about presidential power when the opposite party occupies the White House; war-authorizing resolutions usually passing by lopsided margins; and anything seriously restricting executive power coming only after media or publicpressure.