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After the Rubicon

Congress, Presidents, and the Politics of Waging War

After the Rubicon

Congress, Presidents, and the Politics of Waging War

When the United States goes to war, the nation’s attention focuses on the president. As commander in chief, a president reaches the zenith of power, while Congress is supposedly shunted to the sidelines once troops have been deployed abroad. Because of Congress’s repeated failure to exercise its legislative powers to rein in presidents, many have proclaimed its irrelevance in military matters.

After the Rubicon
challenges this conventional wisdom by illuminating the diverse ways in which legislators influence the conduct of military affairs. Douglas L. Kriner reveals that even in politically sensitive wartime environments, individual members of Congress frequently propose legislation, hold investigative hearings, and engage in national policy debates in the public sphere. These actions influence the president’s strategic decisions as he weighs the political costs of pursuing his preferred military course.

Marshalling a wealth of quantitative and historical evidence, Kriner expertly demonstrates the full extent to which Congress materially shapes the initiation, scope, and duration of major military actions and sheds new light on the timely issue of interbranch relations.

336 pages | 2 halftones, 20 line drawings, 16 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Chicago Series on International and Domestic Institutions

Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations


“Many [have] concluded that Congress has little to no influence over how presidents use military force. This book is a powerful corrective to that long-held view. Kriner marshals considerable quantitative and qualitative evidence—the use of archival data from the Reagan Library is particularly welcome—to illustrate how congressional actions influence the use of military force, the scope of military actions, and the duration of military actions in the post-WW II period. Building on a well-developed theoretical model, he demonstrates that legislation, congressional hearings, and the resulting national debates shape how presidents prosecute wars. An important contribution to the scholarly literature.”


“This is a terrific book: rigorous, important, and one of the very best contributions on political accountability.”

Bruce Russett, Yale University

“Douglas Kriner closely scrutinizes how and when Congress influences foreign policy in this very fine book. This is the best statement, quantitative or qualitative, I’ve seen on the role of Congress in American foreign policy making.”

David Clark, Binghamton University

“Studies of war and research on Congress typically stand in isolation from each other. Kriner’s new book demonstrates big payoffs from examining the two in concert. He shows how the balance of party power in the legislature trumps conventional strategic variables in explaining the duration of U.S. military conflicts. Kriner also reveals how informal legislative actions, such as hearings, investigations, and resolutions, limit the president’s use of force. The book draws on a wide range of statistical and qualitative evidence and should cause even diehard realists to look more seriously at domestic constraints on U.S. actions abroad. In sum, Kriner’s work suggests that reports of Congress’s death as a participant in international relations are greatly exaggerated.”

Linda L. Fowler, Dartmouth College

“In this important book, Douglas Kriner challenges those who argue that the president dominates U.S. military policy and can ignore Congress with impunity. In his careful theoretical and empirical analysis, Kriner demonstrates that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Congress in fact often exerts considerable influence over presidential military decisions. Anyone concerned with national security policymaking will benefit immensely from this book.”

James P. Pfiffner, George Mason University

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables

Chapter 1 Introduction: Domestic Politics and Waging War  
Chapter 2 Mechanisms of Congressional Influence
Chapter 3 Partisan Politics and the Initiation, Scale, and Duration of War
Chapter 4 Congressional Actions and the Conduct of War
Chapter 5 “Sitting Ducks”: Marines in Beirut, 1982–84
Chapter 6 The Logic of Congressional Action
Chapter 7 Conclusion: Congressional Constraints and the War on Terror



Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation: D.B. Hardeman Prize

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