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Power without Constraint
The Post-9/11 Presidency and National Security

What are the limits to presidential power?

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized the George W. Bush administration for its unrestrained actions in matters of national security. In secret Justice Department memos, President Bush’s officials had claimed for the executive branch total authority to use military force in response to threats of terrorism. They set aside laws made by Congress, even criminal laws prohibiting torture and warrantless surveillance. Candidate Obama promised to restore the rule of law and make a clean break with the Bush approach. President Obama has not done so. Why?

In a thorough comparison of the Bush and Obama administrations’ national security policies, Chris Edelson demonstrates that President Obama and his officials have used softer rhetoric and toned-down legal arguments, but in key areas—military action, surveillance, and state secrets—they have simply found new ways to assert power without meaningful constitutional or statutory constraints.

Edelson contends that this legacy of the two immediately post-9/11 presidencies raises crucial questions for future presidents, Congress, the courts, and American citizens. Where is the political will to restore a balance of powers among branches of government and adherence to the rule of law? What are the limits of authority regarding presidential national security power? Have national security concerns created a permanent shift to unconstrained presidential power?

 

Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University and also a fellow with the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies there. He is the author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, which was awarded the Crader Family Book Prize in American Values.

 

 


 

Praise

“A powerful warning about the future of constitutional government and an indictment of the ways it has been undermined in the recent past.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A clear and powerfully argued direct comparison of the policies and rhetoric of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, demonstrating that they are more alike than different in their approaches to combating terrorism.”
—Michael A. Genovese, author of The Power of the American Presidency

“An ambitious, impressive historical and constitutional analysis of national security power in the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.”
—Mitchel A. Sollenberger, coauthor of The President’s Czars

 

 

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Of Related Interest


Emergency Presidential Power

Emergency Presidential Power
From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror
Chris Edelson

Torture and Impunity

Torture and Impunity
The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation
Alfred W. McCoy

Power Without Contraint
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May 2016
LC: 2015036812 JK
242 pp. 6 x 9

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ISBN 978-0-299-30740-0
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