THE Iran-contra affair has put a new focus on the historic question of the balance of power within the United States constitutional system. From the start, Congress has been a reluctant partner in the Reagan administration's efforts to fund the contra rebels, who are fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. But that opposition has grown since the White House disclosed last November that the administration had sold arms to Iran covertly, and that certain officials later attempted to divert profits from the arms sales to the contras without going through Congress.
Congressional committees are investigating whether any of the administration's secret activities were illegal or a violation of constitutional checks on executive authority.
``We need separation of powers,'' stresses Alfred Rubin of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. ``We don't have a parliamentary system. And we don't have a king. We restrict what the President can do as a party leader. And we don't want [him] to co-opt Congress.''
Interviews with constitutional lawyers, historians, political scientists, and foreign policy specialists show that:
The president - as provided by the Constitution - continues to be the central figure in the design and practice of foreign policy. But the Iran controversy has heightened debate over how best to check presidential power and provide accountability for Oval Office action.
Although Congress wants greater oversight of the US's international actions, it has exhibited little willingness to show a strong hand in crises. Critics say this is because legislators worry that they might not be reelected if a congressional policy proved unpopular.
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