War and the American Presidency, by Arthur Schlesinger

This book by eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger is a blistering critique of the Bush administration, and in particular the “Bush Doctrine” of pre-emptive war. While at times the vitriol is tough to read through, Schlesinger makes extremely compelling arguments against the war-related policies of our current administration. The most interesting idea in the book for me is that while some of our best presidents have gone beyond the Constitution in certain circumstances (Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus comes to mind, Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory, etc.), the difference between what they did and what Bush is doing now is that they never claimed that what they were doing was within the laws of the Constitution — they knew that they were breaking fundamental laws, acknowledged it, but did it anyway because of the circumstances of the specific situations. What Bush is doing, Schlesinger argues, is saying that what he’s doing is anticipated and condoned in the Constitution — a far more dangerous tactic, in that it weakens the Constitution over time.

Anyone who’s really interested in historical antecedent for the things that are happening in Washington (and Iraq and Guantanamo Bay and on and on…) should read this.

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