Massa Masterpiece - Must Read
Pick axes coming for you

Review of John Yoo's "Crisis and Command"

Elise Cooper for BLACKFIVE

John Yoo’s latest book, Crisis and Command, is an encyclopedia of information on how presidents from Washington to George W. Bush dealt with national security. He explores the decision by the founding fathers to make sure the president is in control over foreign affairs and war-time issues. 

He made an interesting point on how President Washington set the precedent and established traditions for future Commanders-in-Chief.  Washington made sure that in issues of war and foreign affairs, the President would act independently from Congress and be the leader.  The framers thought the presidency would be a fairly modest office when it came to domestic affairs and Congress would take the lead.  In contrast, the president would have a great deal of power with foreign affairs as long as there was a crisis. Yoo told that the hero of the book was President Lincoln.  He commented that Lincoln “had a real fortitude of character and was willing to use the full powers of the Constitution to meet the challenge of secession.  His policies were in the best interests of the country.” 

The book explores Yoo’s belief that Presidents should be in charge of foreign affairs.  He gave high marks to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman for doing this.  Congress tried to prevent FDR from entering WW II with the neutrality acts.  Roosevelt saw the threat to the security of the country and used his constitutional executive powers to violate those acts.   According to Yoo, President Truman’s containment policy put the power of foreign policy squarely with the President.  His policy was the framework for future Presidents on how America would fight the Cold War.

In the book, Yoo makes the case that the Presidents with high marks were ones that made their own rules and interpreted the Constitution for themselves regarding issues of national security.  He commented that, “In this day and age we fall into this assumption that the judiciary is supreme in interpreting the Constitution concerning national security issues, an idea that would have driven Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR crazy.  They would not have agreed with our current attitudes of deference to the Supreme Court, but would want to interpret the Constitution for themselves.”

The Presidents given very low marks by Yoo were James Buchanan and James Madison.  To Yoo, Madison led America into an unnecessary war with Great Britain. He argues that Madison was too weak and acquiesced to Congress instead of taking Presidential initiative to keep America out of the war.  He commented that Buchanan was weak for the same reason.  He told that “President James Buchanan thought secession was unconstitutional just like Lincoln but turned the whole issue over to Congress.”

This book is very relevant today considering America’s last two Presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have taken opposite strategies regarding the war on terror.  President George W. Bush asserted that during war time, the President has far reaching authority. On the other hand, Yoo commented that President Obama conducts his war time duties “opposite of what the framers had in mind.  He seems to think that the main job of the President is to spark some kind of domestic revolution and at the same time he tries to pull the President back from its leading role in national security.  Take for example the KSM decision or the decision to put the Christmas Day bomber into the civilian law enforcement system.  Both these decisions give the courts the lead roles in deciding what to do with the terrorists.  I think that would have been stunning to the framers, that the Presidency would not be the lead institution to deal with the war.”  This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding what branch of government should take the lead in issues involving foreign affairs and war time policy.