In her thoughtful review of our book, The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror, Elizabeth Wilson argues that our belief that Congress can play a critical role in directing post-September 11 national-security policy is misguided. She questions what she calls our “pleasing but perhaps ultimately naïve faith in rational discourse.” She does not believe rational discourse will “get at the root causes of the illness that paralyzes Congress because those root causes are, at bottom, political.” Wilson contends that partisan politics will often control, as Congress “is locked in bitter partisan dispute, with the two parties using hijinks and strong-armed tactics to push through, or obstruct legislation,” and that our prescription for greater congressional involvement in national-security policymaking is undermined by our tendency “to look at Congress as a single, unified entity.”
Wilson is, of course, correct that the nation’s two major political parties seem more interested in political gamesmanship—and relatively unsophisticated gamesmanship, at that—than engaging in serious policymaking through legislation and oversight. In our book, we did not mean to suggest that it would be a simple task to convince members of Congress to set aside partisanship. The focus of our book was not directed at the root causes of Congress’s inaction, which unsurprisingly will always be political: we have little doubt that national, regional, and local political concerns will influence members of the national legislature to a sometimes extraordinary degree. Thus, we agree that the potential of Congress to play a stronger role in overseeing the President in national-security matters may often be thwarted by the interests of individual members.