One of the most important questions about the working of the United States government is the nature and location of the authority to use the armed forces of the country against an adversary. It is not an easy matter. Doctrinaire readings of the constitutional grant of the war power to the Congress are as misleading as executive reliance on the role of the President as Commander in Chief. The formal treaties that bind the United States to allies in Europe, Asia and this Hemisphere are couched in language that quite deliberately skirts the question of who would do what, and by what process of decision, at the moment of truth. Even greater uncertainty surrounds the largely untested War Powers Resolution of 1973. And in all our complex debates on strategic deterrence we seldom ask ourselves just how one would square the possible requirements for rapid executive action with the rights of the Congress, let alone the people.
In this situation one guide to understanding is history, and it is therefore a matter of some importance when doubtful interpretations are offered by persons who deserve to be taken seriously. This is what has just happened in Henry Kissinger's book, White House Years. The author's importance and the gravity of his distortions combine to justify a careful analysis.
On page 1373 of this massive volume Mr. Kissinger addresses briefly but eloquently the question of the propriety of certain private assurances given to President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam in the course of the strenuous and eventually successful efforts of the Nixon Administration to secure his acceptance of the agreements with Hanoi that ended the longest of all our wars. The crucial sentences in this paragraph deserve quotation:
As to the American response to violations, I reiterated Nixon's assurance that in the event of massive North Vietnamese violations the United States would act to enforce the agreement. The argument was later advanced that it was not within the President's power to give such assurances
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