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Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush

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An American President faces war and finds himself hamstrung by a Congress that will not act. To protect national security, he invokes his powers as Commander-in-Chief and orders actions that seem to violate laws enacted by Congress. He is excoriated for usurping dictatorial powers, placing himself above the law, and threatening to “breakdown constitutional safeguards.” One An American President faces war and finds himself hamstrung by a Congress that will not act. To protect national security, he invokes his powers as Commander-in-Chief and orders actions that seem to violate laws enacted by Congress. He is excoriated for usurping dictatorial powers, placing himself above the law, and threatening to “breakdown constitutional safeguards.” One could be forgiven for thinking that the above describes former President George W. Bush. Yet these particular attacks on presidential power were leveled against Franklin D. Roosevelt. They could just as well describe similar attacks leveled against George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and a number of other presidents challenged with leading the nation through times of national crisis. However bitter, complex, and urgent today’s controversies over executive power may be, John Yoo reminds us they are nothing new. In Crisis and Command, he explores a factor too little consulted in current debates: the past. Through shrewd and lucid analysis, he shows how the bold decisions made by Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR changed more than just history; they also transformed the role of the American president. The link between the vigorous exercise of executive power and presidential greatness, Yoo argues, is both significant and misunderstood. He makes the case that the founding fathers deliberately left the Constitution vague on the limits of presidential authority, drawing on history to demonstrate the benefi ts to the nation of a strong executive office.


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An American President faces war and finds himself hamstrung by a Congress that will not act. To protect national security, he invokes his powers as Commander-in-Chief and orders actions that seem to violate laws enacted by Congress. He is excoriated for usurping dictatorial powers, placing himself above the law, and threatening to “breakdown constitutional safeguards.” One An American President faces war and finds himself hamstrung by a Congress that will not act. To protect national security, he invokes his powers as Commander-in-Chief and orders actions that seem to violate laws enacted by Congress. He is excoriated for usurping dictatorial powers, placing himself above the law, and threatening to “breakdown constitutional safeguards.” One could be forgiven for thinking that the above describes former President George W. Bush. Yet these particular attacks on presidential power were leveled against Franklin D. Roosevelt. They could just as well describe similar attacks leveled against George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and a number of other presidents challenged with leading the nation through times of national crisis. However bitter, complex, and urgent today’s controversies over executive power may be, John Yoo reminds us they are nothing new. In Crisis and Command, he explores a factor too little consulted in current debates: the past. Through shrewd and lucid analysis, he shows how the bold decisions made by Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR changed more than just history; they also transformed the role of the American president. The link between the vigorous exercise of executive power and presidential greatness, Yoo argues, is both significant and misunderstood. He makes the case that the founding fathers deliberately left the Constitution vague on the limits of presidential authority, drawing on history to demonstrate the benefi ts to the nation of a strong executive office.

30 review for Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush

  1. 5 out of 5

    The American Conservative

    'The idea behind Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power From George Washington to George W. Bush, is simple: throughout American history, crisis has inspired constitutional daring, and the race to presidential greatness goes not to the leader who hews most faithfully to the constitutional text but to the one most willing to bend the document to meet the perceived demands of the day. It is a disappointing contribution to the literature on the Constitution and the American presidency, an 'The idea behind Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power From George Washington to George W. Bush, is simple: throughout American history, crisis has inspired constitutional daring, and the race to presidential greatness goes not to the leader who hews most faithfully to the constitutional text but to the one most willing to bend the document to meet the perceived demands of the day. It is a disappointing contribution to the literature on the Constitution and the American presidency, and beneath a scholar of Yoo’s ability.' Read the full review, "A Brief For Bush," on our website: http://www.theamericanconservative.co...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    I confess, I did not finish this book. It read like a doctoral theses, very dry, too many references, no flow.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Bergen

    (Review originally posted on Dead Presidents) Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush By John Woo Hardcover. 524 pages. 2009. Kaplan Publishing When I received John Yoo's book, Crisis and Command (2009, Kaplan), I approached it with an open mind.  I did not want to judge it ahead of time simply because the author happened to be one of the Justice Department lawyers who helped shape George W. Bush's policies on national security during the War on Terro (Review originally posted on Dead Presidents) Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush By John Woo Hardcover. 524 pages. 2009. Kaplan Publishing When I received John Yoo's book, Crisis and Command (2009, Kaplan), I approached it with an open mind.  I did not want to judge it ahead of time simply because the author happened to be one of the Justice Department lawyers who helped shape George W. Bush's policies on national security during the War on Terror, which often included interrogation techniques that many consider torture. I didn't want to be unfair and just immediately label the book -- without reading it -- as a desperate defense of the Bush Administration, using convoluted connections to attempt to justify the excesses of Executive Power during President Bush's eight years in the White House.  So, I started reading the book with an open mind, hoping that it would be a balanced examination of Executive Power from the origins of the Constitution through examples of Presidential usage in the 221 years since George Washington's inauguration. Unfortunately, this was the result:  Crisis and Command is simply a desperate defense of the Bush Administration, using convoluted connections to attempt to justify the excesses of Executive Power during President Bush's eight years in the White House. My goal on Dead Presidents is to not be overly political.  I prefer to study every side of history and present it as best as I can so that all of you can decide what your feelings are about it.  It is, however, impossible to hide my disdain with Yoo's book.  The first sentence of Crisis and Command criticizes the fact that "most judges and lawyers do not hold the 'originalist' view of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia that the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the Framers' understanding of the text."  Despite having an open mind as I started reading Crisis and Command , that opening sentence made me say, "Uh-oh". What John Yoo does in Crisis and Command is examine the usage of Executive Power by legendary, widely beloved Presidents --  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt -- and attempt to, somehow, connect their actions and interpretation of the President's power to George W. Bush's actions following September 11, 2001.  This is nothing more than a 500-page-long justification for trampling the Constitution, discarding American ideals, and circumventing the Geneva Convention by engaging in the torture and questionable detention of foreign nationals.  And, it's not just foreign nationals whose rights aren't important to Yoo.  As one of President Bush's top lawyers, he also approved of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.  In Yoo's opinion, Executive Power and Presidential prerogatives are more important than individual rights in times of war.  Yoo makes a case that the expansion of Presidential power in wartime is a necessity and that all Presidents should make their decisions on national security with the understanding that what is most important is that the power of the Presidency is strong and the people are closely monitored (not merely safe, but "secure") instead of the fact that the rights of ordinary American citizens are maintained and protected.  The problem with this argument is that the President's oath compels him to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States -- not just his office or his power.  No interpretation of the Constitution should allow torture, "enhanced interrogation" techniques, unlawful detention or rendition, and warrantless wiretapping, among other things.  Justice is supposedly blind, but anyone who can't see the injustice in this interpretation is truly the one without sight. Crisis and Command is not a legalistic, scholarly look at the usage of Executive Power throughout American History.  It is a blatant attempt to defend reprehensible policies by inexplicably trying to link them to completely unrelated applications of Presidential power from the time of Washington.  John Yoo is not qualified to write this book.  He knows the law, but he knows the law because he needed to understand it so that he could bend it, perhaps even break it.  Here's a good hint:  never read a book focusing on the legality of certain powers by someone who has been investigated for war crimes. John Yoo's Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush is available at your local bookstore, or online at Amazon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This is a good book, though probably not as entertaining as some of the reviews of it on Goodreads. The book tends to wander at the end of its exposition on the particular presidents it examines, and once it enters into the 20th century a bit of a partisan tone can be found - though any partisan tone seems to be unintentional - if you look for it. In essence the book explores crises faced by presidents and finds that they exercised a robust, Hamiltonian command of the presidency to meet the chal This is a good book, though probably not as entertaining as some of the reviews of it on Goodreads. The book tends to wander at the end of its exposition on the particular presidents it examines, and once it enters into the 20th century a bit of a partisan tone can be found - though any partisan tone seems to be unintentional - if you look for it. In essence the book explores crises faced by presidents and finds that they exercised a robust, Hamiltonian command of the presidency to meet the challenge. He then uses these examples to argue that the president continues to exercise these powers, most specifically in the exercise of foreign affairs / commander-in-chief powers. Here's the best part though: The Originalist theory of constitutional interpretation are mentioned, literally, in the opening sentence of the book. Based on this prominence, on might expect a heavy reliance on Originalist theory. But, go to the end of the book and he explains the growth of presidential power in those areas as being a reaction to the changed conditions of the globe and the United States: "It was not the Presidency that became imperial, it was the United States that became an empire." Stated another way, our understanding of the constitution allowed these greater powers to account for changed circumstances. (Though, I doubt the author would agree with that restatement.) One might ignore that comment, but later on he scolds liberals understanding of executive power stating "If critics were to enforce the same standards about executive power in its domestic dimension that they would in foreign affairs, they would have to accept a return to a domestic regime of limited government and largely unregulated market." A strong - and possibly accurate - criticism, but not an Originalist one. Again, I liked this book. I was also entertained by the reviews of it that still seek to take a pound of flesh out of Mr. Yoo, but this is not a partisan book meant for cable news talking points. It is a well though out, thorough exposition of a unitary executive, especially in the area of foreign affairs - but bleeding into others as well.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    I learned a lot about Jefferson and Jackson in this book which has changed my opinion of both. Jefferson deserves his position in the pantheon of founding fathers for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, for his actions as a diplomat during the revolution and for his service as Washington's Secretary of State. As President Jefferson was mediocre at best; his record was rescued only by the Louisiana Purchase; but he was so unsure of his constitutional authority tha I learned a lot about Jefferson and Jackson in this book which has changed my opinion of both. Jefferson deserves his position in the pantheon of founding fathers for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, for his actions as a diplomat during the revolution and for his service as Washington's Secretary of State. As President Jefferson was mediocre at best; his record was rescued only by the Louisiana Purchase; but he was so unsure of his constitutional authority that he almost allowed France to renig on the deal. Further, he antagonized the one military power with the ability to threaten the future of the United States (Great Britain) and was bailed out by the unlikely heroics of Admiral Perry in Lake Erie and Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orelans. Jefferson's actions led to the sacking and burning of Washington in the War of 1812. Finally, Jefferson refused to support American interests during the war between France and Britain during his second term and declared an embargo on trade with both countries. With the embargo he essentially declared war on American business with disasterous consequences for the nation. JFK famously spoke to a group of distinguised visitors to the White House that rarely had so much intellectual power dined at the White House except perhaps when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. After reading about Jefferson's actions as President, I would surmise that he often dined alone. Andrew Jackson by his dealings with Congress, his role as party leader, and his direction of military affairs, basically created the presidency which we understand today. This is not necessarily a good thing. Jackson made the sporadic conflict with the native American population, a matter of national policy. But his actions created a pattern of presidential activity that we would recognize today. I expected Yoo to present a full-throated justification and defense of the Bush administration. He did finally get to Bush in tge last few pages of the book and he did defend the Bush record. But that was not the book's goal and was only lightly addressed.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa C

    An unpleasant literary (and only sometimes scholarly) contribution from a very intelligent and manipulative lawyer to the existing literature on Executive Power. Yoo was the one of the master architects in designing an overreaching, all powerful executive administration along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft and Rice. This book serves as an attempt to justify, through our constitutional history, his instrumental involvement with the Bush administration. Democratic accountability being An unpleasant literary (and only sometimes scholarly) contribution from a very intelligent and manipulative lawyer to the existing literature on Executive Power. Yoo was the one of the master architects in designing an overreaching, all powerful executive administration along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft and Rice. This book serves as an attempt to justify, through our constitutional history, his instrumental involvement with the Bush administration. Democratic accountability being undermined was only an issue before Yoo got involved with the Bush administration, though: Yoo in the year 2000, writing in "The Rule of Law in the Wake of Clinton": "President Clinton exercised the powers of the imperial presidency to the utmost in the area in which those powers are already at their height -- in our dealings with foreign nations. Unfortunately, the record of the administration has not been a happy one, in light of its costs to the Constitution and the American legal system. On a series of different international relations matters, such as war, international institutions, and treaties, President Clinton has accelerated the disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine notions of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law." The book is worth a read if you are interested in different perspectives on constitutional authority, generally unfounded historical interpretations, or if you're just interested in educating yourself in the fuckery that is John Yoo

  7. 4 out of 5

    Travis Murtha

    Critics of executive power should read this. It gets a bit constitutional in nature for non-lawyers but I loved it. Found myself wanting to learn more about Reconstruction under Lincoln before his assassination and FDR's alteration of the balance between the executive and legislative branches as a result of the administrative state we now know. His examination of the use and limits of executive power in times of emergency gave me a lot of perspective after reading so much about how W is portraye Critics of executive power should read this. It gets a bit constitutional in nature for non-lawyers but I loved it. Found myself wanting to learn more about Reconstruction under Lincoln before his assassination and FDR's alteration of the balance between the executive and legislative branches as a result of the administrative state we now know. His examination of the use and limits of executive power in times of emergency gave me a lot of perspective after reading so much about how W is portrayed as a war criminal in the media. Lincoln and FDR went WAY beyond anything W did and everybody seems to forget this since they navigated the country through the Civil War, the Great Depression and WWII. I'd recommend this book to all.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarmatia S

    I'm perplexed at the positive reviews. They are apologism for a true American monster. It would be like praising Torquemada by contemporaries. I denounce John Yoo as an unrepentant monster and his words as filth.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel DeLappe

    This is a great informative read. Love or hate him for what he has done, but he is an actual intellect. Take your time and take in what he is actually saying. If you like the study of the law you will love this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin J. Rogers

    I'm going to read this one side-by-side with The Shield of Achilles. And I think it may be more than a little ironic that their respective covers have almost identical color schemes--but in reverse.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paschalis

    elibrary

  12. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    After hearing John Yoo suggest that Lt Col Vindeman may be a spy I cant read another word of his!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brad Bitler

  14. 5 out of 5

    M

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mindofmatter

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karyn Bruggeman

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mac Read

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Nohowec

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tarun Kumar

  25. 4 out of 5

    T.J. Connolly

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan Grimes

  27. 5 out of 5

    Evan Clark

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diana G Rodriguez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Denisov

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nikhil Garg

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