The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

March 20, 2013

Congress falls short on national security

Wherever you stood on Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster to delay John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director, or on the Senate’s confirmation hearings for Brennan and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, they all serve as a reminder of just how feeble Congress has proven to be when it comes to foreign policy.

This wasn’t immediately obvious, of course. Paul’s speech questioned whether there are limits on the President’s power to use drones to kill Americans who’ve been declared “enemy combatants.” But the CIA and military have been using drones overseas for years and this was the first time Congress really pondered the issue. That’s a measure of its dereliction, not of stepping up to the plate. Why has it taken so long to see significant congressional review of the President’s power to use drones?

Meanwhile, if you followed the confirmation hearings, you’d have to conclude that Congress thinks U.S. foreign policy centers on Israel, Cuba, and the destroyed consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

On the long list of significant foreign policy issues confronting the White House – the rise of China, a war looming with Iran, increased tensions on the Korean peninsula, the fragmentation of Syria, Libya, the spread of Al Qaeda to northern Africa – there’s mostly been silence from the Congress.

Our strategic framework agreement with Iraq? The agreement we’re negotiating with Afghanistan? The key issue of when, where, and how we commit American forces abroad?

Congress has been missing in action on these.

This is not how it’s supposed to be.

Our Constitution gives Congress strong levers for dealing with foreign policy. It has oversight of the executive branch, and can hold hearings and demand information. It has the power of the purse, and with it the ability to explore key issues of behavior and policy before approving the budget. It has the power to declare war, and to raise and maintain an army and navy. In the Senate, it has the confirmation process, which allows senators to probe and evaluate policies.

Yet for the most part, Congress prefers deference to executive power. Most of its members, who know that their re-election rests on domestic issues, don’t bother to gain the expertise or develop the political will to become potent and valuable foreign policy contributors, as the Constitution intended.

Institutionally, Congress likes leaving decisions to the President and then blaming him if they turn out to be wrong – or it tries to have it both ways, as with Benghazi, cutting funds for State Department security and then criticizing the department for not having enough security.

The executive branch is hardly blameless. The White House, whether under Republican or Democratic control, typically sees Congress as a nuisance and an obstacle to be overcome, not a partner.

Yet that’s a reason for Congress to try harder, not to fold. Our system is based on the premise that better policy emerges if the President and Congress work together. It depends on Congress to hold executive policies up to the light and to weigh in with its own concerns.

To do this, members need to be fully informed both about the complexities of foreign issues and about what the administration is doing.

They need to make robust oversight commonplace, asking executive-branch policymakers to spell out and justify policies and their implementation.

They need to use the power of the purse to grant or deny funds if their views are not taken into account.

They need to develop the expertise – both among themselves and on staff – that would allow them to be both critic and partner in the development of foreign policy.

And above all, those members who do understand the ins and outs of foreign matters need to press Congress to set aside its reluctance to affect foreign policy. That is where the real failings lie – not with individual members, but with how Congress acts as an institution in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Developing American foreign policy is complicated, confusing, and sometimes frustrating. But our country is at its strongest when it is unified and speaks with the voice not just of the President, but of the American people’s representatives in Congress.

It’s time for Congress to shoulder its responsibilities on foreign policy.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Education a priority? Don’t believe it

    They did it – more or less.

    They got a budget, they got a road plan and they got out of town on time.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don McNay.jpg Did you miss small business health-care tax credit?

    A Kentucky professional who owns his own business found that he missed getting the health-care tax credit.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should Richmond rezone the southwest corner of Main Street and Tates Creek Avenue to B-1 (Neighborhood Business) with restrictions to allow construction of a financial services office?

Yes
No
     View Results