Counsel For The Defense?

The appointment of Dawn Johnsen as head of the incoming Obama administration’s Office of Legal Counsel got my attention when it was announced yesterday; Ms. Johnsen is well-known as a critic of the Bush administration’s efforts to strengthen the power of the Executive Branch.

An op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal argues that with the nation at war she is not, perhaps, the wisest choice. Many will disagree.

The tension here is between the nation’s ability to wage war effectively — which calls for a good measure of secrecy about one’s strategy and tactics, and the ability to respond flexibly to rapidly changing situations unhampered by debate and second-guessing — and the transparency and checks on executive power that are necessary for a free and democratic nation. Those concerned about the latter will argue that dictators often begin their consolidation of power by invoking national defense, while those focused on the former will argue that to insist on legislative, or even judicial, scrutiny and approval of every executive decision during a time of external conflict undermines the nation’s ability to defend itself, and to defeat its enemies.

Read the article here.

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