For proof of why President Bush has been justified in his reluctance to include Congress on sensitive decision-making in respect of the war on terror, one need look no further than recent antics on the House Intelligence Committee. A feud appears to have erupted between the committee's chairman, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, and its ranking Democratic member, Jane Harman of California. The details are as convoluted as most political plots usually are, but the bottom line is clear: If Congress, and especially congressional Democrats, want to argue that the president should include the legislature in more national security decision-making, lawmakers need to start treating sensitive material more carefully.
The intelligence committee is currently investigating whether anyone associated with it might have been the source of the leak of part of a National Intelligence Estimate to the New York Times last month. Meantime, Democrats leaked a politically embarrassing report about the activities of a former Republican committee member, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who now sits in prison after pleading guilty to bribery charges. Mr. Hoekstra recently barred a Democratic aide, identified by the Times on Saturday as Larry Hanauer, from accessing any classified materials. Ms. Harman charges that Mr. Hoekstra told her Mr. Hanauer was cut off in retaliation for release of the Cunningham report, but another Republican on the committee, Raymond LaHood of Illinois, apparently has suggested that Mr. Hanauer may indeed have been the source of the NIE leak.
Got that? Congressmen and their aides are allegedly playing politics. Playing politics is what congressmen and their aides are supposed to do. When they start doing so with sensitive intelligence, however, Americans are going to notice that they risk jeopardizing national security. This concern is as old as the republic. In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton justified creation of a single executive in part with these words: "Decision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number; and in proportion as the number is increased, these qualities will be diminished."
The Founders recognized that secrecy and fast action in respect of foreign and security policy can be vital to the national interest, which is why they vested such powers in the president. That point has been too often lost during President Bush's attempt to prosecute the war on terror. Despite the administration's briefings of key lawmakers, including Ms. Harman, on programs like the warrantless terrorist surveillance operation, Democrats have called for even more "cooperation" with Congress. It's now beginning to look like such secrets aren't necessarily safe even with the intelligence committee. Democrats' caterwauling about Mr. Bush's alleged obsession with imperious secrecy will ring hollow until they come clean about their own willingness — and ability — to keep important state secrets.
Ms. Harman is a relatively strong player among the Democrats, but Hamilton, as always, understood the phenomenon that we are witnessing today in the broadest sense. Federalist 70, which was issued in the Packet and addressed to the People of New York, was about the idea of a vigorous executive branch. And in it he put his finger — or pen — on exactly the nature of the fault of the Democrats today. "Men often oppose a thing," he wrote, "merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty of self-love."