The Clinton Wars: The Constitution, Congress, And War Powers

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  • Publish Date: 2002-06-30
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Ryan C. Hendrickson

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Today the United States is fighting a war against terrorism, a military action whose definition will be a matter of controversy, particularly, if history is any guide, between Congress and the president. Throughout its history, the United States has grappled with the constitutional tension built into the conduct of its foreign affairs and the interpretation of the power to make war and use force abroad. Since the Cold War's end, the United States has had to navigate through a period of strategic ambiguity, where American national security interests are much less certain.

Ryan Hendrickson examines the behavior of the Clinton administration and Congress in dealing with the range of American military operations that occurred during the Clinton presidency. He uses a case-study approach, laying out the foreign background and domestic political controversies in separate chapters on Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. Of special interest after the World Trade Center attacks is the chapter Terrorism: Usama Bin Laden.

The author analyzes a number of factors that influence the domestic decision-making process. We see the president relying on congressional consultation and approval during periods of political or personal weakness, and, conversely, in better times we see a president with a freer hand. Also influential is the ability of the public to comprehend and support the reasons for a particular action, with troops in Bosnia requiring more explanation than cruise missiles over Baghdad. Consideration is given to the relevance and effectiveness of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a Watergate-era attempt by Congress to restore what it perceived to be its legitimate constitutional role in the decision to use force abroad.

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