War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath
Twenty years after the signing of the Paris Accords ending the Vietnam War, the constitutional ambiguities of American involvement in that conflict remain unresolved. Now John Hart Ely analyzes them in the context of U.S. military actions since Vietnam, up to and including the Gulf War. He examines the overall constitutionality of America's role in Vietnam from the year 1964, when fighting began in earnest, as well as the legal problems raised by specific incidents such as the American ground incursion into Cambodia, the inconclusive repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and the U.S. government's continued bombing of Cambodia between the final withdrawal of American troops on April 1, 1973 and August 15 of the same year. Arguing that the hubris of the executive branch was aggravated by legislative irresponsibility, Ely shows that Congress authorized each new phase of American involvement in Vietnam, without committing itself to the stated aims of intervention. The "secret war" the CIA (and Air Force) fought in neighboring Laos throughout the 1960s and the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 were different, however. There, Ely demonstrates, Congress was largely kept ignorant and thus could not have provided the constitutionally required authorization. Ely proposes a revised version of the War Powers Resolution that would force the president to seek congressional authorization before (or, if necessary, simultaneously with) sending the nation's troops into armed combat, and suggests specific ways in which the federal courts can and should induce Congress to reassume unequivocally the obligations so plainly entrusted to it by the Constitution. Written in the lively style familiar toreaders of Ely's Democracy and Distrust, this is a work with broad implications for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in the years ahead.
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