By going to Congress, Obama is doing something profound. He’s acknowledging that the rules of the foreign policy game must change. Over the past 40 years, America’s presidents have gutted two key restraints on their ability to go to war. In 1973, Richard Nixon created an all-volunteer military, thus confining the direct burdens of war to a small subset of Americans who were legally barred from political protest and virtually ensuring that nothing as noisy and chaotic as the anti-Vietnam movement would occur again. Then, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush cut out Congress—launching invasions of Grenada and Panama on their own authority despite efforts by Congress itself (the War Powers Act) and the framers of the Constitution (Article One, Section Eight) to make certain it couldn’t happen.
The result was the creation of a “hubris bubble” in foreign policy analogous to the one that grew during the same stretch of time on Wall Street. Like the titans of Wall Street, America’s presidents kept making bets that paid off: Grenada, Panama, Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo. And the more they did, the more dismissive they became of the need for public oversight. It all went swimmingly. Until Iraq, when the deregulation of presidential war-making powers produced the foreign policy equivalent of a stock market crash. [Continue reading…]