- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Democratic attempt to focus the Senate debate on Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court on the need to restrain the president’s war powers fell flat.

Antiwar liberals are, however, trying to keep the issue alive pending Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Bush administration’s terrorist surveillance program.

Like their earlier concern for the “rights” of enemy combatants, which parallels their efforts to hamper domestic law enforcement in criminal cases, the left seems to think Americans should be more suspicious of those defending the country than of those plotting against it.

When the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked on September 11, 2001, the assaults were launched from within the United States. The terrorists planned and trained for their missions within the United States. They were not U.S. citizens, but were able to operate freely within the country. As a result of this lapse in domestic security, 3,000 people were murdered. Everything done since, including the long investigation by the bipartisan September 11 Commission, has stressed the need to improve internal surveillance to prevent another mass-casualty attack.

The Bush administration has cited a number of laws and legal precedents to support its actions. But President Bush has also cited inherent powers under the Constitution, so what did its authors think of presidential power and national security?

The principle failing of the Confederation period was lack of a strong central authority in defense and foreign policy. As secretary for foreign affairs in 1786, John Jay argued “to be respectable abroad, it is necessary to be so at home: and that will not be the case until our public faith requires more strength.” Jay went on to warn in Federalist 5 “that weakness and divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad.”

The Framers had examples in their own time of what happened when nations lacked a strong executive office. Sweden had adopted a constitution in 1720 that limited the monarchy and placed more power in parliament. As Harvard historian John P. LeDonne has written, “In a country in which venality was widespread and the nobility as fractious as anywhere, the Constitution of 1720 was certain to create disorder and offer opportunities to paralyze the operations of government.”

Russia was quick to exploit this weakness and seize important parts of what was once a powerful Swedish empire. Russia also intervened to support factions inside Sweden who wanted to maintain divided government for their own ends. Large sums of rubles were spent to aid the “Caps” party, which claimed to favor “liberty” above all else. In Federalist 22, Alexander Hamilton cites Sweden among examples of “foreign corruption in republican governments” which “excited universal disgust.”

But as badly run as Sweden was, Poland was even worse. The Polish crown had been elective since 1572, and the Polish elite often chose a foreign prince to keep their own government weak. In 1652 the first “liberum veto” was invoked in the legislative Diet. This became the key right in the doctrine of “Polish liberty.” It was also a political suicide pact for the nation. A single negative vote in the Diet would veto any measure debated. It was based on the notion every Polish nobleman was an equal whose opinion could not be overturned by any other noble, group of nobles or the king.

This idea lives on in the U.S. Senate where a single member can place a hold on any piece of legislation, and its modified version can be seen in the use of the filibuster.

Hamilton and James Madison both cited Poland as a bad example. In Federalist 19, written jointly, Poland is called “equally unfit for self-government or self-defense, it has long been at the mercy of more powerful neighbors; who have lately had the mercy to disburden it of one third of its people and territories.” This is a reference to the first partition of Poland in 1772 by Russia, Austria and Prussia. Additional partitions followed, removing Poland entirely from the map by 1795.

In Federalist 39, Madison termed Poland an example of mixed government “in their worst forms.” Hamilton placed Poland squarely in “a history of impotence, perplexity and disorder” in Federalist 75. The focus was using supermajorities in legislative bodies, which he argued “have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to the minority.”

As the world’s leading power, trying to defend its security and interests in a time of global turbulence, terrorism and foreign wars, the United States cannot tolerate the kind of partisan politics that create “impotence, perplexity and disorder.” Whether motivated by a ideology of defeatism or mere self-interest, opponents of effective national leadership cannot be allowed to prevail by the American public. The Framers of the Constitution did not want a weak, vulnerable or failed state.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industrial Council.

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