Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Like night follows day, liberals oppose wars started by Republicans and shrug their shoulders at those started by Democrats.  Indeed, even when those wars–both Iraq and Afghanistan–were supported by congressional resolutions and UN mandates, there was much talk over the last decade of “illegal wars” and the evils of unilateralism.  All that talk evaporated when President Hope and Change assumed the helm.

The Libyan campaign manifests a certain amount of multilateralism (indeed, France is there, which is apparently the sine qua non of all multilateralism) but there is no authorization at all from a congressional resolution.  Under the War Powers Act, which was instituted post-Vietnam and post-Nixon, American military action of more than 60 days requires consultation with Congress and formal congressional support.  Indeed, this statute itself quite a bow to executive power, as the Constitution does not seem to contemplate any unilateral, executive military action other than in the case of repelling national invasions.  Congress must declare wars.  And, a fortiori must authorize warlike military action in general. Here it has partially delegated that power, but retained its essential role in the process.

Obama is thwarting that role and usurping the powers of war and peace solely to himself.  This is, quite frankly, the traditional mark of a tyrant.  It should have all Americans from every background and political persuasion concerned.

Here we have an action far overseas, that has been subject to minimal explanation to the American people and is based on a very dubious rationale of stopping so-far-nonexistent-masacres, and not a single American legislator has voted in favor it.  The deadline for such authorization has come and gone, and Obama has announced quite lawlessly in my view that he does not have to and does not intend to seek any congressional support for the Libyan campaign. 

Ideological and cowardly as our political leaders are, we’ve seen little institutional concern over Congress’s rights here. Their one trump card now would be to defund the campaign.  But there seems little support for that. If this war is indeed popular, shouldn’t the Congress at least vote to authorize it, if only to preserve its own institutional power? One would think the Congress would ant to shore up its ability to prevent a future unilateral war.  And this war, unlike Iraq, is truly unilateral insofar as it emanates from and is sustained by the will of one man alone, the President, without any checks and balances to speak of!  That he has teamed up with other regimes, some democratic and others less so, is immaterial.

We are witnessing one of the chief evils of a Republican-Party dominated national legislature:  they rarely see a war or military action they’re willing to oppose, which passivity they imagine to be the height of patriotism.  In spite of this imagined seriousness, some completely idiotic wars have come and gone this way (such as Kosovo), and, from a purely self-interested standpoint, it should be noted that Democrats do not return the favor even after they’ve voted in favor of military action, e.g., the ridiculousness that is John Kerry.  While the President deserves some deference on foreign policy, particularly in the age of al Qaeda, that deference can be taken too far.  When the President has no congressional authorization whatsoever and violates a statute to commit a war, that is the time for nonideological action based on the institutional concerns of the legislative branch itself.

The President, like all presidents, quite naturally and predictably changed his tune and supported Bush-era institutions such as the GITMO detainment and related executive rights over foreign policy.  This is what powerful men do; they are jealous over their power and their prerogatives.  But Congress, contrary perhaps to the expectations of the Founders, has proven to be a bit of a pushover, particularly on matters of war and peace.  Why is this? Well, the less they do, the less responsibility they have, and thus the less blame they must endure for failure.  This seems to be part of the problem.  In addition, the rise of ideological politics, where ideologically motivated political parties seek certain ends without regard to which branch may implement them seems to have been an unexpected development of the last 100 years or so.  The Founders imagine a politician to be a proud man, naturally avaricious of power, and therefore unlikely for ideological or other goals to give up that power.  The founders, nearly all lawyers, imagined the genius of the advocacy system writ large, whereby faction would balance faction and each branch of government would be on guard against the others. What they did not contemplate is that ideology and the politics of party would castrate men, rendering them obedient and humble before the President elected by a national plebiscite.  The disaster of Vietnam shook Congress from its stupor.  Let us hope nothing quite so bad is required to get the Congress to check the ambitions of Obama.

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Debt Delusion

The recent budget fight is simply a precursor of what must be done.  Both sides are still playing small ball, messing with discretionary spending, when the huge entitlement bomb is going to cause our demise.  While Democratis cry about “cruel” budgets, our debt will go up more this week (about $50B) than the $38B or so that Congress was able to agree to cut.  We’re using bandaids and aspirin when wholesale amputation and emergency surgery is required.  Columnist Robert Samuelson put the matter well in his column today:

We in America have created suicidal government; the threatened federal shutdown and stubborn budget deficits are but symptoms. By suicidal, I mean that government has promised more than it can realistically deliver and, as a result, repeatedly disappoints by providing less than people expect or jeopardizing what they already have. But government can’t easily correct its excesses, because Americans depend on it for so much that any effort to change the status arouses a firestorm of opposition that virtually ensures defeat. Government’s very expansion has brought it into disrepute, paralyzed politics and impeded it from acting in the national interest.

Few Americans realize the extent of their dependency. The Census Bureau reports that in 2009 almost half (46.2 percent) of the 300 million Americans received at least one federal benefit: 46.5 million, Social Security; 42.6 million, Medicare; 42.4 million, Medicaid; 36.1 million, food stamps; 3.2 million, veterans’ benefits; 12.4 million, housing subsidies.

While Paul Krugman cries that Obama is a wimp and Republicans are cruel, it is our continued, insane-level of deficit spending that is cruel.  It has real practical consequences today ($5 gas) and tomorrow (a shrinking, sclerotic, no jobs economy).  There are signs of seriousness and hope among both voters (the Tea Party) and politicians (Paul Ryan, for example),  but one wonders if the stars can align for the kind of serious courage needed to get this sorted out before we have a real Greek-style meltdown.

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Which one of these is not like the other? We’ve condemned Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and even powerful Russia for each country’s mistreatment of ethnic minorities. Yet Turkey continues to play the victim, campaigning for EU membership even as it eschews European values, not the least of which is recognition of human rights for ethnic and religious minorities. In the post-WWII era, this commitment is one of the most central unifying features of Europe.

During WWI, Turkey massacred its Christian Armenian population, whom the Turks characterized as fifth columnists. One million or more were murdered. Turkey, unlike Germany, has not come to terms with its past. It routinely dismisses any characterization of the forced marches, concentration camps, and outright massacres of Armenians as genocide. Yet Hitler himself used these acts as a model, noting “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Now George Bush, champion of all things liberal and democratic in the Middle East, is leading the charge to prevent a Congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it was. Bush’s “idealism,” it should be clear by now, is a slippery thing. It takes absolutely no courage for him and others to condemn a poor and insignificant country’s misdeeds, such as those of Burma or Sudan. And it is also no great shakes to employ moralistic rhetoric when one’s perceived strategic interests are aligned, as in our ritual condemnations of atrocities in Iraq, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. But Turkey is different; it is a nominal ally that is also seeking to forge closer ties with the West. While it speaks our language on the whole–secular state, freedom of religion, separation of powers, elections etc.–its tone and grammar betray its alien roots. It is still a fiercely nationalist place peppered with radical Islam, and neither tradition has much use for dissent and criticism . . . or Armenians, for that matter. To condemn Turkey over its mistreatment of the Armenians might actually cost us something, and it might cost Turkey something too.

Turkey needs to grow up, recognize its awful and bloody past, and behave like a normal country if it wants to be treated like one. From its election of Islamic fundamentalists to its threatening moves on Iraq’s border, it shows more and more that it is not ready for prime time. On reflection, it would not be such a bad thing if the whole world saw its leaders denying the undeniable:  that the Ottoman regime massacred an enormous number of innocent Armenians; this was an official policy; and the Turkish nation has never lifted a finger to recognize this wrong-doing, let alone to rectify it.

I would be sympathetic with complaints against this Congressional Resolution if they were lodged by consistent realists, who adopt an across-the-board policy rejecting interference with other nations’ internal affairs. But the defenders of Turkey’s right to live in a world without criticism are normal, run-of-the-mill western politicians–these, the same people that piously utter “never again” at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.  In Turkey’s defense, the Madeline Albrights and Cyrus Vances of the world are standing shoulder to shoulder. I’d like to see where Bronco Bomber is on this, considering his punctilious concern for human rights in Pakistan and at Gitmo. This could be a great show.

Or is the real reason that so many big wigs are skittish about condemning Turkey’s record not an arcane matter of foreign policy, but rather seemingly unrelated matters of domestic policy? After all, if we call what happened to the Armenians a genocide, then surely we must recognize the same about events in Cambodia. And if Cambodia, then why not the Soviet Union, Ukraine, China, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia? But of course, such recognition would ultimately contextualize the Nazi genocide, depriving it of its unique role in our moral imagination. This development would call into question the dominant “exceptionalist” account of western history that classifies Europe’s sins to be worst among equals because of the Holocaust.  The Armenian Genocide suggests a gruesome precedent for the Holocaust may indeed exist, and, disturbingly for the anti-Western Left, this precedent comes from a non-Christian nation outside of Europe.

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