Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bomb [the] Power

So in the absence of posting, I've actually been reading. I just finished Garry Wills's Bomb Power yesterday, after having knocked off The Hawk and the Dove, a "joint" biography of Paul Nitze and George Kennan, and Arsenal of Democracy, a history of post-war national security politics. I highly recommend Hawk and Dove, and less strongly recommend Arsenal. Arsenal is one of those books that needed one more rewrite, to tighten, focus, emphasize. It also needed a conclusion to pull things together. Still a good read, but a little quick in spots and not as cooked as one would have liked. (Or at least as I would have liked.)

Bomb Power is a different thing. I agree with much of what Wills has to say. But I have to say that, given recent events, I have become increasingly skeptical of the argument that presidential power over foreign affairs/war powers must be "returned" to Congress. I agree that the Framers invested the Congress with many war powers that have atrophied . . . and that presidents, including the present one, will abuse those powers . . . but does anyone really think that the solution is congressional authority? Those folks can't do crap. If the foreign policy of the United States is subject to a 60-vote rule in the Senate, then we are doomed.

What Wills really means, I think, is that we need a much more "humble," much less aggressive foreign policy. And I would agree with that. For example, I think we could easily forswear invading any countries for fifty years and not suffer for it. But that's not the direction he actually goes in. He goes in the direction of congressional power.

Now I think it's an open question whether congressional control of foreign policy would result in a more humble foreign policy. It could result in a "one-way ratchet" toward hawkdom. See Arsenal of Democracy.

As always, people, think these things through clearly, or you just end up in a place that doesn't make sense. Like Absurdistan--a novel, btw, that I did not like.

Summer post on Tim Weiner's history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, which I still highly recommend.


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