Cold War paranoia and the growing powers of the US President’s Executive Office
Cooperation between US presidencies and Congress is imperative for any successful administration. Without cooperation, bargaining, concessions and appeasements on both sides, the creation of any beneficial policy would be impossible and unlikely.
Bruce Jentleson in his book American foreign policy: the dynamics of choice in the 21st Century, discusses bipartisanship between the executive and legislative powers. He describes how common this was throughout the Cold War, detailing how Democratic presidents and Republican congresses and Republican presidents and Democratic congresses worked together on many foreign policy initiatives. He writes that “…the president managed to get his [domestic policy] proposals by Congress only 40% of the time, and that of foreign policy, in which the success rate of the president was 70%”. Jentleson claims that the reasoning was due to fear of the Soviet threat and the general danger of nuclear war. He also writes that “the presidency had the greatest institutional capacity to conduct foreign affairs. Only the presidency had the information and expertise to understand the world, could act with the speed and determination to make key decisions, and had the will and ability to maintain secrecy.”
Naturally, it’s an interesting theory, and it makes sense that the American public, elected representatives of the public, and state governments see it that way. For my part, I agree with Jentleson’s assertion that fear of communism and fear of nuclear war were the primary causes of the increase in executive power we see in the presidency today.
This fear of communism started at the beginning of the 20th century, rather immediately after the First World War with the Palmer raids. The raids began after an Italian anarchist detonated a bomb too early on the front porch of the United States Attorney General’s (AG) home in the District of Columbia. While anarchism and communism are quite different political ideologies, have very little to do with each other and most anarchists treat communism with the same disdain they treat those of any other political ideology , many U.S. officials and members of the public failed to see this distinction.
Nevertheless, in response, AG A. Mitchell Palmer gave the Bureau of Investigation (a precursor to the FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation) the ability to prosecute anarchists, socialists, communists, and virtually any leftist or unionized group in the USA. states, doing this through, “[a] massive roundup and deportation of extraterrestrial radicals”. The New York Times and other news organizations reported on the deportations positively and further heightened this fear of communism in the eyes of the American public, being fed deliberate misrepresentations and misinformation by the longtime future director. of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. While many of these raids resulted in people being beaten (thrown down the stairs, scalps lacerated and eyes blackened) and held in appalling conditions (“eight hundred people were held for six days in a small corridor without air on the top floor of the [Detroit] federal building, with only one clogged toilet and only occasional food and water…actual size was 448 square feet, just under half a square foot per foreigner”), the fact that the media seemed seeing the raids as a good thing and that much of the country was against Communism, endorsed the idea that Communism endorsed the bombing campaigns (even though the bombings had been launched by radical anarchists). This fear of communism came into focus again with the Red Scare of the 1950s, in which Joe McCarthy accused various people in the US government of being communists, despite the lack of evidence. While his entire campaign was eventually discredited on national television in front of the entire American public, the fear of communism and the damage that was done (both to individuals and to the rule of law) remained firmly entrenched. in the halls of power and in the mind. public. Communism’s encroachment on half of Germany and much of Eastern Europe was also significant, as they became seen as power-hungry and eager to take over much of the world.
The threat of nuclear war was also incredibly frightening and arguably did more to imbue the executive office with increased power than the threat of communism. While the atomic bomb has been and has only ever been used twice in military conflicts, the effect it has had on warfare and foreign policy is undeniable and massive.
The first atomic bomb to be detonated during the war was Little Boy, which “detonated at 8:16:02 a.m. Hiroshima time, 43 seconds after leaving the Enola Gay1,900 feet above the Shima hospital yard… with a yield equivalent to 12,500 tons of TNT… Out of 76,000 buildings in Hiroshima, 70,000 were damaged or destroyed, 48,000 totally…[While there remains the question of how many died] more recent estimates place the number of deaths through the end of 1945 at 140,000 [out of a rough civilian population of 285,000 with 48,000 soldiers]”. The amount of power and total destruction inflicted on a population was now greater than any other type of weapon ever created in the history of time. The fact that with a single aircraft, relatively little capital (in the 1950s), and little industrial effort, a bomb of equal or greater destruction could be made was very disturbing. The fact that the Cold War eventually became a nuclear arms race worried citizens in the United States and the Soviet Union and around the world and, in turn, caused them and their elected officials to give a increased power in the presidency. This eventually evolved into an executive office with the ability to control when, how, and under what circumstances a nuclear missile could be launched in retaliation or as a preemptive first strike.
Gary Wills, professor of history at Northwestern University, states in his book The Power of the Bomb: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State that “the development of nuclear weapons invested the president with much more power, and that those powers have grown ever since.” Wills expands on this by stating, “until then [when Reagan appointed Edwin Meese as U.S. AG], when Congress created an agency, it declared that it had the right to control the operation of that agency, as it controls the executive branch in general because, after all, it has the right to impeach any member of the executive. Well, those people initially said no, once you create the agency, it’s totally under the president’s control, and his power over it is unitary. That is to say, he has the right not only to administer these things, but to decide whether someone can interfere with them. Now that has been expanded.”
Wills argues that because of the President’s impressive powers to wield nuclear weapons, the Executive Office’s ability to declare wars in some cases without Congressional approval and without formal declaration, is an effect of the Football Holding (the President’s briefcase containing the nuclear codes). Certainly, there is some credence to the idea that because of the Cold War expansion of the president’s powers and the public’s desire for an executive to make an immediate decision, this type of thinking would permeate across the board. Other Areas of Presidential Decision Making.
These two areas highlight the correlation between increasing executive power and responses to fear of political ideology and fear of nuclear annihilation. The public’s desire for a strong, authoritative executive who can make quick decisions when there are only thirty minutes before a nuclear missile hits the United States was incredibly strong and incredibly necessary given the very real and apparent threat of nuclear war. These fears were stoked by the Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s in which it was believed (or rather misrepresented extremist anti-Communist government figures, the media, and the general public) that Communists would easily become involved in the assassinations of foreign officials. . and take all necessary means to ensure the spread of communism. There is, for me, a clear line of increased executive power built on the general fear stemming from Cold War paranoia and overstatement.