M-M: In your view, are Republican and Democratic presidents equally responsible for power grabs?
BA: Yes. It's true that the three worst incidents have occurred under Republican presidents — that is, Watergate, Iran-Contra and the extra-legal, illegal activities of the war on terror. But there has been a bipartisan effort by presidents from Franklin Roosevelt through to the present to aggrandize presidential power. And there are crucial features of the existing edifice that have been built by Democratic presidents.
Right now, we have an increasing number of highly skilled lawyers in the White House Counsel's office and in the Office of Legal Counsel. We didn't have these people before. Before Richard Nixon, there was no trained legal staff in the White House. Now there are 40 lawyers, 25 of them writing very polished opinions. What happens in an emergency is that these lawyers in the White House staff and the Office of Legal Counsel have powerful incentives to write very learned opinions saying the president can do whatever he wants.
There are 7 billion people in the world. There are always going to be tens of millions of people who don't like America. And with the big technological shift, it's becoming possible for smaller and smaller numbers of people to buy more and more dangerous weapons for lower and lower prices. Five hundred people with a couple million dollars will, predictably, in 20 years' time, have nuclear capacities. One of these groups is going to be lucky. That's going to happen. The question is, whether it is totally going to destroy our tradition of freedom or whether it will simply disrupt it for a manageable period of time.
My proposal is to have a new emergency statute which recognizes that right after a 9/11 catastrophe — and we may well have worse catastrophes in the 21st century — it is appropriate for the United States government and the president of the United States to take really sweeping actions for a brief period of time — I'd say, 45 days. I say, however, that this state of emergency has to be approved by Congress, and that every 60 days thereafter, the president has to go back to Congress and get it approved again, with a supermajority — the first time, 60 percent of Congress has to go along, and the next time 70 percent, and the next time and for every time thereafter, 80 percent. What this means is that emergencies end. Our problem right now, after 9/11, is that so many of the emergency measures, which I would support as short-term devices after a tragic episode, have become part and parcel of our system. And when we have another attack, which we will, people will say, "Well, you know, these measures weren't enough to stop the attack, so let's be even more draconian."
He also mentions disturbing tends in the erosion of civilian oversight of the military. I am not sure how true this is, but I do know that a military that always follows civilian orders and does not get involved in politics is vital for the long-term health of freedom and democracy. The problem is that civilians sometimes order the military to do really stupid things and they need to have the right to protest that.
I would say that the military should always have the right to argue that it should not be doing something, especially if that something involves the creation of overseas entanglements. However, they should not have the right to propose new strategic actions or attempt to alter domestic policy or leadership in any way.