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12/12/2018

Matthew Waxman Reviews "Presidents of War" by Michael Beschloss
Michael Ramsey

Matthew C. Waxman (Columbia Law School) has posted Presidents and War Powers on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The U.S. Constitution vests the president with “executive power” and provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy,” while it endows Congress with the power “To declare War.” These provisions have given rise to two major questions about presidential war powers: first, what should be the president’s role in taking the country to war, and, second, what are the president’s powers to direct its conduct. Historian Michael Beschloss’s new book, “Presidents of War,” examines how presidents have responded to each of these questions across two hundred years of U.S. history.

The major argument of this book is that presidents have gradually assumed greater power over decisions to go to war—contrary, in his view, to the constitutional founders’ vision. Although the book does succeed in offering some new insights into how that accretion of that power occurred, its more original contribution lies in its depictions of how presidents have handled and managed the tasks of waging war. Those responsibilities for the management and supervision in the conduct of America’s wars have grown more complex as warfare has evolved—and they, too, look nothing like what the founders expected or might even have imagined. The book also puts an important focus on the continually shifting relationship between war-initiation powers and war-waging powers throughout the course of American history.

The Amazon page for Presidents of War (Crown Pubs. 2018) by Michael Beschloss is here.  This is the book description: 

From a preeminent presidential historian comes a groundbreaking and often surprising saga of America’s wartime chief executives.
 
Ten years in the research and writing, Presidents of War is a fresh, magisterial, intimate look at a procession of American leaders as they took the nation into conflict and mobilized their country for victory. It brings us into the room as they make the most difficult decisions that face any President, at times sending hundreds of thousands of American men and women to their deaths. 
 
From James Madison and the War of 1812 to recent times, we see them struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, their own advisors and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses, families and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. We come to understand how these Presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war—both physically and emotionally—or were broken by them.
 
Beschloss’s interviews with surviving participants in the drama and his findings in original letters, diaries, once-classified national security documents, and other sources help him to tell this story in a way it has not been told before. Presidents of War combines the sense of being there with the overarching context of two centuries of American history. This important book shows how far we have traveled from the time of our Founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.