The Question of the Day

Jim Webb is really one of the most exciting things to happen to our politics recently; the personification of potentially worthy electoral trends who’s managed to pull it off not by embracing militarism but by showing that good sense in national security policy can be fused to personality and cultural attributes other than, say, mine. And so it’s good to see him in particular asking the Secretary of State the question of the day: “Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran in the absence of a direct threat without congressional approval?” Rice’s reply:

Senator, I’m really loathe to get into questions of the president’s authorities without a rather more clear understanding of what we are actually talking about. So let me answer you, in fact, in writing. I think that would be the best thing to do.

Now, back in the real world, it’s clear that this particular administration has never acknowledged any limits to presidential authority. It’s also worth saying that most recent administrations have claimed the authority to launch military actions without specific congressional authorization, so a presidential assertion of power in this regard would be less unusual than some of the other claims it’s made. What’s more, in light of yesterday’s consulate attack I think it’s pretty clear that Bush feels free to wade into whatever kind of gray areas he likes. Still, it’s crucial to get the administration on record here so people can begin considering countermeasures.