• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Morning Bell: Who Is Responsible for Protecting America?

    On October 25, 1983, the first of 7,000 U.S. troops landed on the shore of Grenada under the command of President Ronald Reagan. The goal of the mission? Put down a violent coup that threatened to put the country in the Communist bloc and give the Soviet Union another foothold in America’s backyard.

    Just as President Reagan acted decisively to protect American interests in 1983, so too must America today be prepared to respond to the threats of terrorist forces in the wake of September 11, 2001. But who bears the responsibility for ensuring America’s security? The President? Congress? Today at The Heritage Foundation, former U.S. Attorneys General Edwin Meese III, John D. Ashcroft, and Michael B. Mukasey will discuss that question and their views on the Constitution as it pertains to presidential power and the role of Congress and the Supreme Court during war time. (Click here to watch the event live online from 12 to 1 PM ET.)

    Following September 11, questions of the proper balance between Congress and the President–as well as the role of the courts–came to the fore. Issues including the capture and treatment of detainees, interrogation techniques, surveillance, the Geneva Conventions, wiretapping, Guantanamo, or the role of the courts during war time all became subjects of intense debate–and the 2008 presidential election.

    The question of who is responsible for America’s security dates back to the Declaration of Independence, which announced the sovereignty of the United States and, with it, the “full Power to levy War.” The Framers viewed the security of the nation to be the federal government’s foremost responsibility, and it devised a series of checks and balances to ensure that the powers reside neither in committee alone nor the hands of just one person. Meese describes that balance in a special Understanding America report:

    In theory, these delegations give rise to a tension between the President and the Congress. The former has ultimate discretion over the deployment of soldiers and nearly all aspects of the conduct of war. The latter holds the power of the purse, by which it may stymie executive initiative. Yet in practice, rather than stand in opposition, the two branches’ respective powers over national security have proved complementary, and rare disputes have been settled in compromise, not duel.

    That control of the greatest force ever known to mankind should be governed by compromise for over two centuries would be a miracle if it were not by design.

    Meese also points to the President’s authority under the Constitution to act swiftly and decisively in ensuring America’s security as a key element of the Founders’ genius design. It is a power that enabled Reagan to execute the Grenada operation, and it is a power that will help the President protect America in the wake of September 11.

    Though the Framers could never have imagined the events of September 11, 2001, or the terrorist forces that have made America their enemy, they built a republic that could endure and defeat all external threats and prosper. The war on terrorism, being fought against an enemy with few assets and dead aim on soft targets, has only increased the importance of swiftness and secrecy.

    The President has the power, and bears the responsibility, to make tough decisions at a moment’s notice–whether to trust fresh but uncertain intelligence, bomb an al-Qaeda safe house, target a terrorist for drone attack, or arrest a terror suspect. These decisions are not subject to legislative check or veto. Nor, in an age where a rogue state or stateless terrorist group may threaten the lives of million of Americans, could they be, if the safety of the nation is to be maintained.

    James Madison wrote, “Security against foreign danger is one of the primitive objects of civil society. It is an avowed and essential object of the American Union.” Today, as America continues its worldwide fight against terrorist forces, it is vital to remember who is ultimately responsible for America’s security, what the Constitution provides, and what the Founders intended.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    19 Responses to Morning Bell: Who Is Responsible for Protecting America?

    1. John says:

      The short answer? Every single one of us is responsible!

    2. toledofan says:

      It's obvious that we are so screwed until Obama is voted out of office. Let's face it until we decide to do whatever it takes to keep America safe, it'll continue to be a crap shoot. You guys at HF continue to talk about the stuff that's important, it's too bad that the Administration is always AWOL when iit comes to listening and doing.

    3. Robert, TX says:

      Actually, the purpose of the Grenada mission was to evaluate the capabilities of our armed forces after the decay brought on by four years of the peanut farmer. The responsibility for protecting America – and all other responsibilities – belong to the American citizen. Our government, and Congress in particular, are a pure reflection of US. The republicans (that Heritage worship) have had majority control 6 times in the last 33 years – and they have done NOTHING (they are part of the PROBLEM, not the solution). FIRE CONGRESS! And elect citizen legislators that are independent of our current, one-party, mob rule.

    4. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      The Constitution says that Congress has to raise and equip an Army but it has to provide and equip a Navy.
      Under the Constitution, it's Congress that's responsible for defending the country. Congress can declare war.
      The President, whether he's Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, can't declare war on his own. He has to ask Congress to declare war. When was the last time we declared war on another country? Three times in December 1941. December 8, against Japan, and December 11, against Germany and Italy, who'd declared war on us. Who was the last President to declare war? FDR.

    5. John Maddox says:

      The ultimate responsibility for the protection of the country and the immediate security of their homes are the people. This right is guaranteed under the second amendment to the Constitution. My opinion has and always will be that if our intelligence networks and other national security installations could not detect and prevent the 911 attacks then it falls to us to secure our own homes and communities until the government can detect and determine the actual extent of the threat. If we can't as a people weather an isolated terrorist threat or attack with out a dependence on an official agency for guidance then how would we ever deal with a major invasion by a foreign army.

    6. Guest says:

      Just how long are we going to be 'at war'. It is long past time to end the undeclared wars, the bully wars, the wars to bring democracy to the world (not our job…and by the way, the US is a REPUBLIC, not a democracy) and bring our warriors home…where we can use them to develop a great defense against any entity that would subvert our Constitution and rule of law, or should attack our people and US land. These wars are empire building.

    7. Guest says:

      These wars are not protecting us so much as they are destroying our liberty inside this country(–think Patriot Act). These wars are rotting the US from within. These wars are the product of the United Nations and Agenda 21. We the people are fools. John Adams said, "There are two ways to conquer a Nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt." These wars cost the US Taxpayer money they no longer have.

    8. Stephanie Toland says:

      It is my belief that the presidential oath states the president is to protect the citizens of America. He is not doing so. He isn't doing so with the Middle East nor is he protecting us with what is happening in Mexico. The rumors are that many of the cartel are already in the southwest. He is not living up to his oath and should resign. The story came out this morning that the State Department called and apologized to the parents of Kahn the American workig with Al Queda who ws killed with Alwar Alaki. Since when do Americans apologize to traitors? The ATF and DOJ issues are clear. America cannot risk another year with this man as the had of our amazing America.

    9. Guest says:

      Should we Restore America now? Should the Federal Government protect ALL of the people? Do we not pledge "liberty and justice for all?" If we don't, America is going to be forever lost as we knew it. 'Freedom once lost is lost forever' (which we are witnessing with the renewal of the Patriot Act-repeatedly-or the violations by the TSA if we travel, or killing of American citizens by secret groups without a charge of wrong doing and a jury trial)…someone much smarter than I said that first…and I believe it. Hello America, are you still here or have you become Amerika of an entirely different kind? Does this country still have a belief in the US Constitution (can't believe what you don't learn). I am getting curiouser and curiouser.

    10. flajim says:

      It's important to note that the first example given in this article by Mr Brownfield was proactive rather than reactive. We can't wait till the pagan hordes have already set up camp, crossed the moat, and are beating on the walls.

      So far, US forces have done a good job at keeping the wild eyed moslems occupied several thousand miles away — a proactive role. Yet the job of actually guarding our borders has been performed in an abysmal fashion. We don't even know who's crossing our southern border because so few resources are utilized to detect and police the problem.

      Both of these are vital responsibilities of DC.

    11. Guest says:

      Is one to assume that after an hour…and none of ones comments are visible, it is because they have been deleted? I am checking so I know if I should stop checking to see if my comments passed muster or were passed over.

      • Bobbie says:

        Guest, no offense but to empathize with Heritage's position, we don't know what the job entails on the other side. Although at times I am suspicious to think there could be interlopers as I to had positive comments (regarding Steve Jobs) that were NEVER posted! But I trust Heritage as interlopers aren't known upon hiring…

    12. Will says:


    13. Dr. Henry Sinopoli says:

      Obama does not care about the rule-of-law. His concept is overstep the Constitution, do whatever it takes to destroy, destroy, destroy our system. Protecting America is not on his radar. He will not be happy until the 3rd world countries are in a position to bail us out and we are praying 5 times a day.

    14. Frank says:

      The last time Congress declared war was WW2. But we have been fighting many undeclared wars since then, often in order to be the world's policeman, which we can no longer afford. Congress has clearly abdicated too much of it's authority to the President. Yes, at times the President must act quickly, but he must soon go back to Congress for consent, funds & within a reasonable amount of time if Congress refuses to declare war, troops should be brought home. If Congress can't figure out how to declare war, like against a diffuse non-state entity like Al-Queda, then maybe Congress should just issue "Letters of Marque" to eliminate the known attackers, wherever they might be. For sure, Congress should have declared war on N. Korea, N. Vietnam & Iraq or the troops should never have been sent in the first place. I also do not think we are safer with many thousands of troops in over 800+ bases around the world in some 120+ nations. Neither can we afford it. Time to recall the troops, close the bases & guard the borders. We'd be safer & stop trying to be the world's policeman! I'm sure that's NOT what our Founding Fathers would have wanted us to become at US citizen taxpayer & blood expense!

    15. Bobbie says:

      upbringing in America always led us to believe PROTECTING AMERICA was the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S ONLY JOB!! Currently and by corruption, taking more and more money and control by corruptively abusing their authority! UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

    16. Frank E. Vincent says:

      I really like Heritage and every article is enlightening and objective in scope. Certainly we are kept abreast of the current events and considerations by respectable theologians who are able to rightly divide the facts.
      There is one area of regard that does not lend itself for consideration, which neglects the inevitable threat and possible destruction of America’s defense, industry, and even private enterprises.
      You may have contemplated it is the a magnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion, but that would only limit the damage even if we were not capable of defense; which we are. but have you seriously considered the consequences of a cyber threat that could cripple every interconnecting communication that now controls our lives. The first obstacle we need to overcome is ignorance of the possibility. How many readers are aware that October is set aside as National Cyber Terrorist Threat Awareness Month? How many are aware that we have an ‘Insider Terrorist Threat Task Force? How many realize we are ten to twenty years behind in active defense of such a threat? Of course you are not concerned because our news outlet “watch dogs”, have either neglected or shrugged off the danger as being inconceivable. To start with America should make themselves familiar with research such as ‘The National Infrastructure Advisory Council’s Final Report and Recommendations. The research is somewhat misleading as it was penned in 2008. Today threats are magnified and real.
      I am asking Heritage to do an article or series on this subject to find out what our national defense organizations are researching and universities with specialized skilled individuals and departments, who can make us aware of today’s threats and the defense of those threats.

    17. Carol M Kite says:

      There should be an agreement between the president & Congress after they learn the direction the taxpayers want (they represent us, right?) our country to take. At present, Obama has no regard for the safety of those putting life & limb at risk protecting America from factions ready to destroy anything American. I fail to understand why it's always this country who must rush to other countries' defense, in addition, send millions annually to, often, the same countries bent on destroying us as they hate us so much, finding our situation laughable with a president, and wife, who blatantly have no love for this country, apologize for it while too stupid to use America's own rich resources rather than spend billions to our enemies. Pathetically unpatriotic, our own (alleged) leader. And a Congress, more dedicated to, successfully, becoming wealthy than representing the taxpayers' interests, a desperate need for a healthy economy in order to thrive!

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.