Fred Kaplan writes: President Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for authorization to use military force against ISIS, and smart money gives long odds he’ll get it. The fact is, legislators have only rarely asserted their constitutional prerogative to block a president from going to war, and there’s a reason why: They don’t want the responsibility or — more to the point — blame if all hell breaks loose as a result of their saying no.
The practice (usually, the charade) of presidents asking the Hill for permission dates back to 1973, with passage of the War Powers Act. A whiff of revolt was in the air. Richard Nixon’s presidency was collapsing, with the Senate Watergate hearings (he would resign, to avoid impeachment, the following year); his war in Vietnam was siring massive protests, and news reports had just revealed his secret bombing of Cambodia (which prompted Congress to draft the act). The same year saw publication of Arthur Schlesinger’s 500-page tome, The Imperial Presidency, which won critical acclaim, climbed the best-sellers list, and supplied scholarly heft to the mood of disenchantment.