Presidents, Congress and “The Road to War”
Slate’s William Dobson reviewed Pulitzer Center Senior Advisor Marvin Kalb’s “The Road to War” for the Washington Post:
In his timely book, “The Road to War,”veteran journalist and diplomatic correspondent Marvin Kalb explores the tangled history of the foreign policy commitments that modern presidents have made and the knots these leaders have turned themselves into trying to rationalize or escape their words. The fact that these commitments, whether uttered privately or publicly, are often no more than words, rather than congressionally approved resolutions or declarations, is one of their defining features. Indeed, on only five occasions have American presidents requested declarations of war from Congress, the last being Franklin Roosevelt’s action during World War II.
In his national address Tuesday night, Obama said that “for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.” That’s true — and presidents have generally preferred to make this work a solo project.
The lengths that a president will go to keep his military interventions at a safe remove from Capitol Hill are well known but no less absurd. Harry Truman played down his dispatch of U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula as a “police action . . . to suppress a bandit raid.” Three years later, Kalb notes, more than 54,000 American soldiers had died. Although he wrestled with his constitutional obligations more than most presidents did, Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to lie to Congress about U.S. involvement in Vietnam when he committed the first small detachment of B-26 bombers and Air Force personnel to assist French forces there.