The Roosevelt Precedent

The forces of democracy were in mortal peril and Congress was intransigent, so a courageous President bent the law in the cause of freedom. Ronald Reagan and the contras? No, it was Franklin Roosevelt's decision to provide Britain with 50 overage destroyers during the desperate summer of 1940. The destroyer deal helped discourage Hitler from invading England; small wonder that Reagan's defenders now cite it as a precedent to justify secret efforts to skirt the Boland amendment.

There are, to be sure, some parallels. F.D.R. was hamstrung by a congressional ban on gifts of military equipment to foreign nations. But Roosevelt...

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