Monday, November 30, 2009

In response to HMSvictory on Nov. 23:

Your post highlights some interesting arguments about the growing separation of legislators from their constituents, and while I agree with your conclusion about the President needing to depend on informed and experienced advisors, I find grounds for the legislature to have involvement (however limited) in foreign policy decision-making as well.

First let us consider the general public in this conversation before moving on to their elected representatives. With regard to Afghanistan and foreign policy overall, constituents have little productive input to offer. The general population is predominantly ill-informed about the complexities of foreign policy issues. Furthermore, not only are the public ill-informed, but as long as daily life continues at the status quo, the masses care little. Akin to Roman “bread and circuses,” we have cheap gas and reality TV and BCS bowl games to pacify the 300+million. Roll tide.

I would argue that the flames of public interest in Afghanistan are fanned more by partisan 24-hour news media than sparked by genuine interest or concern. While the level of troop involvement is no light matter for consideration, and involves risking the lives of men and women from across the country, strategy decisions are best left to the President, military advisors and committees of congressional representatives with foreign policy interest and/or experience. They all have specialists, academics, and advisors on hand to provide insight and suggestions. In some situations, especially foreign policy, the role of elected officials is to do what they think is best.

Whether these recommendations are followed is another matter, but I would not trust the general public with the decision about how to proceed in Afghanistan. See per Toby Keith.

Furthermore, from a realist perspective, the United States acts as a unitary actor, and while Congress and the federal government may have assumed power not intended for them by those who drafted the Constitution, matters of foreign policy are clearly a federal-level issue, not one for individual states to debate.

Finally, and most importantly, the primary responsibility of the legislature in matters of military involvement is not one of casting the strategy, but of holding the President in check. Balancing the power of the executive branch is a responsibility intended two centuries ago, and should be more utilized today. So while there may be a glut of “partisan bombast,” the legislative branch plays a valuable role in foreign policy.

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