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Archive for August, 2013

Congress and Syria

So nice – in one sense* – to be talking about whether Congress should authorize the use of force and to think the outcome actually might matter.  But now that Congress is in the driver’s seat, I encourage you to participate in the democratic process by contacting your representative and letting him/her know your opinion on the subject.**  Here are the phone numbers you’ll need: House and Senate.

* I, of course, wish that there was peace/justice/liberty in the Middle East and there would be no issue at all to discuss.

** Pileus as an entity is not taking a stand on any particular piece of legislation before the US Congress.  Indeed, we might disagree about this particular matter.

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In many ways, Presidents Obama’s speech reflects well on him and his administration. Indeed, I think it was among his best since it wasn’t just about relatively meaningless sentiment but a nice mix of political thought and policy detail.  Plus it is the right thing to do regardless of how we feel about the particular case at hand.  However, I think that he decided to go to Congress largely because he was shamed into doing so by the British example which showed us how a democracy ought to behave when it comes to the decision to go to war.  But (and more) importantly, the result will be one more consistent with the rule of law given that the U.S. Constitution demands that Congress authorize the use of force (whether in terms of a formal declaration of war or otherwise). 

If we wish to remain a government under law and one acting consistent with the enumerated powers of the Constitution, the President cannot simply make this decision on his own.  Indeed, consultation with Congress is not enough to satisfy the law of the land.  (I even consider the War Powers Act – the one that many Republicans and conservatives consider to be too binding on the executive branch – to be unconstitutional because Congress itself cannot surrender to the President an ounce of its enumerated power in this area).  Given this, I found the opening clause of the following statement in the President’s address to be flatly wrong and inconsistent with our Constitution:

Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. 

The second part of the sentence is probably true and thus the President’s decision to ask Congress for approval is quite welcome.  However, it would have been a great moment in the history of our country – and a critical step back to the original Constitutional order – if he had accepted without reservation the necessity of seeking Congressional approval before a President can use force (except in the case of an actual or imminent attack on the United States).   Indeed, it would have gone down as perhaps his greatest act as President; he could have turned the tide on the imperial presidency that candidate Obama derided only a few years ago. 

Nonetheless, those who demanded that the President seek Congressional approval have won this battle and hopefully it will set a precedent through which we can win the war (though the same Constitutional order invites Presidents to violate it given the blunt instruments Congress has to defend its powers against a grasping executive).  So thank you Mr. President. 

Now onto the battle over what Congress should or should not authorize…

 

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No, this isn’t about Jason’s righteous holy war against feral cats, here and here.* 

But kittens do enter into the best paragraph I’ve read today.  The context for it is the New York City mayoral race.  Apparently the NYC subway was recently shut down for 90 minutes to protect two little kittens that were on the tracks.  The candidates were subsequently asked if they would shut the subway down for this reason – with all of the candidates except one falling overthemselves trying to appeal to cat lovers (and show their kind hearts to the rest of us): “Christine Quinn said she would. Bill Thompson said he would “work” to save the kittens. Anthony Weiner said he wouldn’t just shut down the subway, he’d personally crawl across the third rail to rescue them. John Catsimatidis submitted a few noncommittal lines of poetry.”

This provoked this wonderful paragraph from Slate writer Josh Barro:

It’s a microcosm of this whole campaign, in which the candidates run around making big promises with no apparent acknowledgment of the city’s tight finances, or of the fact that policy choices involve trade-offs, or even of the mayor’s lack of control over certain policy areas, like income taxation, rent control, and anything the MTA does. Yes, the candidates say, I’ll save the kitties, I’ll make the Wall Street fat cats pay for it, and I’ll give you a middle-class tax cut while I do it. Only Lhota gave the correct answer: No, you do not strand thousands of New Yorkers for 90 minutes in a futile effort to herd two cats whose lives we are inexplicably prioritizing over the rats who are run over, or drowned, or exterminated in the subways every day.

Josh Barro for mayor of NYC?!?

* BTW, Jason and I both respect the lives of animals.  I think I can speak for Jason and say that we do not think the concerns of animals should be entirely subjugated to the needs of human beings.  Moreover, I will not take the life of an animal without good cause.  However, this does not mean that animal control is unnecessary or inhumane (especially to protect the lives of other animals, especially birds and reptiles).

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Even the MSM?

The Washington Post Editorial Board has offered some stern advice to President Obama. They note that even if the president could get away with  unilateral action, “the Constitution grants Congress the exclusive right to declare war.” While the President may claim authority to act, “the legal authorities his administration has informally cited are slender indeed — slimmer, even, than the U.N. Security Council resolution upon which the Libya mission rested.”

The editorial (well worth reading) ends with an interesting paragraph:

Mr. Obama must know that Congress will engage more deeply on Syria sooner or later. Even a short, sharp strike such as the one he reportedly contemplates is unlikely to be the last act in this drama. Nor, in our view, should it be. Unless linked to a broader strategy for weakening the Assad regime — and forcing it either out of power or into real negotiations — the use of force might prove worse than useless. Mr. Obama can and should formulate a sustainable strategy and then make a convincing case for it to the American people and their elected representatives.

All of this sounds like the Editorial Board supports regime change but fears that the president’s current course will lead him to both exceed the bounds of his authority while doing something that will prove little more than symbolic.  I have yet to hear a convincing argument connecting intervention in Syria and US national interest. I wish that the Washington Post would have (could have?) made explicit its argument on this critical point.

Can any Pileus readers make the argument that an attack on Syria would be in our national interest?

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As reported in the Weekly Standard, Nadler announced this today:

The Constitution requires that, barring an attack on the United States or an imminent threat to the U.S., any decision to use military force can only be made by Congress — not by the President.  The decision to go to war — and we should be clear, launching a military strike on another country, justified or not, is an act of war — is reserved by the Constitution to the American people acting through their elected representatives in Congress. 

Since there is no imminent threat to the United States, there is no legal justification for bypassing the Constitutionally-required Congressional authorization. “Consultation” with Congress is not sufficient. The Constitution requires Congressional authorization.

The American people deserve to have this decision debated and made in the open, with all the facts and arguments laid out for public review and debate, followed by a Congressional vote. If the President believes that military action against Syria is necessary, he should immediately call Congress back into session and seek the Constitutionally-required authorization.

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Great piece by John Fund today highlighting a lot of themes we’ve discussed here in relation to the war in Libya and the potential for war in Syria.  This section and the point by Marsh just left me stunned:

Oh my, how liberals have learned to love the imperial presidency they used to so scorn when Richard Nixon or George W. Bush was in office. Last night, I appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight with Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant whose clients have included the late Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, our current secretary of state. Armed with the latest Democratic talking points, she dismissed any need for Obama to consult with what she dismissed as “a special Congress.”

Marsh is worth quoting at length:

There is a special Congress that we’re dealing with right now that has the lowest popularity rating in history and Republicans who overwhelmingly would oppose taking any action. The president of the United States cannot be handcuffed by the same Republicans that are holding the rest of the country hostage on every other issue. That is wrong.

 

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This piece from the Economist discusses subjects dear to my heart – the importance of geography and how different cartographic projections can distort our understanding of the world.  And here is a cool map that shows how big Africa really is:

20101113_WOM943

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