State of the Union

When Can the President Assassinate Americans?

The New York Times puts this question to the GOP contenders. Sophistry ensues. “Under what circumstances, if any, would the Constitution permit the president to authorize the targeted killing of a United States citizen who has not been sentenced to death by a court,” the paper asks. Gingrich, Huntsman, Perry, and Romney take the same line: “Under wartime circumstances” says Newt; “If such an individual is engaged on a battlefield,” says Huntsman; “Due process permits the use of deadly force against all enemy combatants, including citizens,” Romney avers; and “The President would be so authorized … where a citizen has joined or is associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities against the United States” according to Perry. Only Ron Paul describes the conditions in which extrajudicial targeted killing of Americans is permitted as “none.”

The others engage in Orwellian obfuscation, claiming that “battlefield” circumstances permit this — as if the situation the Times is asking about is one in which some American terrorist is shooting away at U.S. troops in combat or about to detonate a bomb on American soil. But that isn’t “targeted” killing. The practice Huntsman, Gingrich, Romney, and Perry — and President Obama — defend includes the assassination of Americans who are, in Perry’s words, only “associated with a nation or group engaged in hostilities.” In fact, the power claimed by these men goes far beyond that since, again, this is extrajudicial killing, in which there is no obligation for the executive to provide evidence to a judge or anyone else that the murdered man is guilty of what Uncle Sam accuses him of.

Stripped of the evasions, what they are saying is that you or anyone else can be killed if the president thinks — or claims to think — that you are “associated” with “a nation or group” that is engaged in hostilities with the United States. Janet Reno would approve. This doctrine would have saved her some crocodile tears over the slaughter of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Even the unarmed women and children there, after all, were “associated” with a group engaged in hostilities with the United States.

Needless to say, there are Americans who join extremist groups, but existing law-enforcement powers and military doctrines already permit killing them when they are actually engaged in acts of deadly violence. The Republicans’ invocations of a “battlefield” might sound reassuring, until you realize that the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, according to two of its supporters, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), designates even the U.S. itself as a battlefield. The whole world is one.

I have trouble taking these claims to more-than-royal power seriously; more precisely, I have trouble ascribing good faith to the intellectuals who try to justify an omnipotent presidency. But it’s a nominally free country, so let them have their say, in elections as well as op-ed pages and the corridors of our think tanks and universities. It seems to me, though, that we ought to hear from those who believe in a limited and law-bound executive as well. Ron Paul shouldn’t be alone in this. The public needs to know what’s at stake here and just how few political leaders think there should be any restraints at all on the power of the president to kill.

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The Bush Ban

A ban on incandescent light bulbsis set to take effect in the new year as part of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The ban was signed into law by George W. Bush who stated “Today we make a major step with the Energy Independence and Security Act. We make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure.” I couldn’t help noticing that Glenn Reynolds linked to an Amazon comment stating ” Screw you, Al Gore!” Reynolds adds, “It’s nice to see the workers and peasants stand up to their oppressors.”

I’m not sure why opponents of the ban should be heaping scorn on Gore instead of the person who signed the ban into law. If there is an oppressor that “workers and peasants” should stand up to in this case, it is the president that Reynolds and other right-wingers supported for eight years.

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America Loses Control

“Events are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

In describing 2011, few clichés seem more appropriate. For in this past year, we Americans seemed to lose control of our destiny, as events seemed to be in the saddle.

While President Barack Obama maneuvered skillfully to retain a fighting chance to be re-elected, the economy showed no signs of returning to the robustness of the Reagan or Clinton years. And Obama is all out of options.

By January 2013, he will have added $6 trillion to a national debt that just earned America a downgrade on its AAA credit rating.

The nation hearkened to the tea party in 2010, giving the GOP 63 new seats in the House. But Republicans, too, have little to show for it, if their goal was reducing the deficit.

During 2011, the European Union was gripped by a crisis caused by a collapse in confidence that eurozone nations like Greece and Italy will be able to service their debts and a fear that they will default and bring down the European banks holding trillions of that debt.

Europe could plunge into a depression like the one in the 1930s, which would leap the Atlantic and cause a recession here that would spell the end of Obama’s presidency.

Should the Greeks or Italians, chafing at the austerity imposed upon them and seeing no way out for years, choose to run the risk of bolting from the eurozone, the consequences could be catastrophic.

And, again, there is little Obama could do about it. Events in Europe could decide his destiny. The same is true in that most volatile region that engaged so much of America’s attention in 2011.

With the withdrawal of all U.S. combat soldiers from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun to attack his Sunni rivals, accusing his own vice president of instigating acts of terrorism.

A return to Sunni-Shiite sectarian war is a real possibility. Read More…

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Explaining Humanitarian Adventurism

I received a “happy holidays” email from The Atlantic’s ubiquitous Steve Clemons yesterday.  Normally I stop dead when I see the expression “happy holidays” but on this occasion I persevered and was rewarded with a bit of political folderol which was too deliciously bizarre not to share.  Steve is a progressive who sees himself as a realist and who likes to suggest to his readers that he is a true Washington insider but not afraid to challenge the status quo.  He does so gingerly, however, never wanting to offend anyone who is really important.  He believes that Henry Kissinger is the greatest foreign policy genius to emerge since the Second World War.

Steve’s happy holidays message cites a recent article by Charles Kupchan, a former Clinton Administration National Security Council staffer, and quotes from it:  “Progressive leadership at home is essential to the nation’s political and economic renewal, which in turn is the foundation for progressive leadership abroad. Since World War II, the United States has been dramatically successful in making the globe more stable, prosperous, and liberal. The recipe for ongoing success in this mission is no different than in the past: a solvent and centrist America reliant on a progressive combination of power and partnership to safeguard the national interest while improving the world.”

Having read that I was, as the English put it, “gobsmacked.”  But more was to come.  Steve approved, conceding that he “rides closely to Charles Kupchan’s thinking,” but he also added: “The dominant personality of the Republican and Democratic parties runs under two monikers — but is essentially tied to the notion that the US has a moral responsibility to re-order the internal workings of other nations that constrain the freedoms and rights of their citizens. The liberal (or humanitarian) interventionist school dominates the progressive foreign policy establishment and more significantly populates the power positions of the Democratic Party today than its rivals; and in the Republican Party, various strains of neoconservatism (there is now competition among the heirs of Irving Kristol, Albert Wohlstetter and other founding fathers) dominate.”

I submit this to the TAC readership to demonstrate what “progressive” foreign policy experts are thinking, significant because it is obviously what in line with what the White House sees as its appropriate international role.  It demonstrates profound ignorance about what has been happening since the Second World War.  Scary.  Very, very scary.

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Ron Paul and Israel

He will probably not be elected as the next Republican presidential nomination. But Representative Ron Paul from Texas has a good chance of winning next month’s Republican primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire and could emerge as a leading power broker in the presidential nomination process next year while continuing to exert influence on his party’s agenda.

That will probably come bad news to some Republican Jewish activists and to neoconservative pundits that have been accusing the most influential libertarian lawmaker on Capitol Hill of being an “anti-Israeli.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, which hosted a presidential-candidates forum in December, decided not to invite Paul to the event, explaining that Paul was “a virulent and harsh critic of Israel during his tenure in Congress.”

I had the opportunity to serve as one of Paul’s foreign-policy advisers during the presidential campaign of 2008 and recall the 76-year-old former physician and Christian Baptist who has been representing the 22nd district from Texas in Congress since 1979 as someone with deep knowledge of Jewish history and an admirer of Israel who follows with great interest the political and economic developments there. Read More…

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Would Ron Paul Have Stopped the Holocaust?

The latest line of attack on the Texas congressman, courtesy of his ex-staffer Eric Dondero, has it that Ron Paul would not have taken us into World War II to stop the Holocaust. “He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews,’ was absolutely none of our business,” Dondero claims.

Of course, that’s exactly how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and the rest of America’s wartime leaders felt. Not only did the U.S. not enter World War II to save Europe’s Jews, but the Allies never tried to bomb the train tracks leading to the death camps. After the war, Operation Keelhaul forcibly repatriated Soviet-bloc displaced persons into Stalin’s hands, a move in many cases morally tantamount to sending Jewish refugees back to Hitler. That was the Good War. It was not a humanitarian intervention in any sense.

There would not have been a Holocaust in the first place had it not been for humanitarian war-making. Woodrow Wilson’s intervention in World War I — the war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy — led to the toppling of Germany’s Kaiser and the liquidation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s hard to imagine the Kaiser appointing Hitler chancellor or an imperial Austria submitting to the Anschluss. Wilson’s well-meaning war cleared the way for the most virulent expressions of nationalism and socialism on the European continent. (Wilson didn’t use humanitarianism as his primary rationale for taking America into the conflict, but once involved the administration insisted upon regime change in Germany and stoked the nationalist flames that consumed Austria-Hungary.)

A doctrine of humanitarian intervention after World War II, meanwhile, would have led directly to World War III. How could good humanitarians have refrained from waging war on behalf of the tens of millions of people oppressed and murdered by the Soviet Union and Chinese communists? Yet a war to liberate Russia or China would have been far from certain of success, and America would have paid a steep price not only in her soldiers’ blood but in the health of republican institutions at home. Even a costly victory can be catastrophic, as the Italians or Louis XVI could tell us; defeat has a way of fomenting nationalist resentments and revolution — things that lead readily to persecutions.

As a rule, from a humanitarian perspective no less than a realist one, humanitarian warfare is a self-defeating proposition. That’s not to say exceptions cannot be made: no less a realist than George Kennan agreed after World War II — which he, like most Americans, had been against before Pearl Harbor — that saving Europe’s Jews would have been reason enough to intervene. Unfair though it might be, Western Europe is simply closer to Americans’ hearts than Russia, and Jews closer than Chinese.

Ron Paul may be consistent to a fault where non-interventionism is concerned. But even the most extravagant interventionists have little reason to complain: he is, after all, similarly consistent in his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and according to that document it is Congress, not the president, that decides when and for what reason this country goes to war.

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Whose Country Is It, Anyway?

Half a century ago, American children were schooled in Aesop’s fables. Among the more famous of these were “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Particularly appropriate this Christmas season, and every Christmas lately, is Aesop’s fable of “The Dog in the Manger.”

The tale is about a dog who decides to take a nap in the manger. When the ox, who has worked all day, comes back to eat some straw, the dog barks loudly, threatens to bite him and drives him from his manger.

The lesson the fable teaches is that it is malicious and wicked to deny a fellow creature what you yourself do not want and cannot even enjoy.

What brings the fable to mind is this year’s crop of Christmas-haters, whose numbers have grown since the days when it was only the village atheist or the ACLU pest who sought to kill Christmas.

The problem with these folks is not simply that they detest Christmas and what it represents, but that they must do their best, or worst, to ensure Christians do not enjoy the season and holy day they love.

As a Washington Times editorial relates, the number of anti-Christian bigots is growing, and their malevolence is out of the closet:

In Leesburg, Va., a Santa-suit-clad skeleton was nailed to a cross. … In Santa Monica, atheists were granted 18 of 21 plots in a public park allotted for holiday displays and … erected signs mocking religion. In the Wisconsin statehouse, a sign informs visitors, ‘Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.’ A video that has gone viral on YouTube shows denizens of Occupy D.C. spewing gratuitous hatred of a couple who dared to appropriate a small patch of McPherson Square to set up a living Nativity scene.

People who indulge in such conduct invariably claim to be champions of the First Amendment, exercising their right of free speech to maintain a separation of church and state.

They are partly right. The First Amendment does protect what they are doing. But what they are doing is engaging in hate speech and anti-Christian bigotry. For what is the purpose of what they are about, if not to wound, offend, insult and mock fellow Americans celebrating the happiest day of their calendar year? Read More…

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Grand Old Military-Industrial Complex

Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron reports on the cozy relationship between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s advisers and the businesses most adept at siphoning off the taxpayer’s money in the name of war and bogus security:

Five of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 41 national security and foreign policy advisers have links to companies that last year alone received at least $7.9 billion in federal contracts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government analyst Christopher Flavelle. Of that, $7.3 billion came from the Department of Defense.

Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who are leading in the polls, have advisers who sit on the board of directors of BAE Systems Inc., which has received at least $37 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2008, the most of any of the companies with ties to Republican national security advisers.

No surprises, but it’s always good to document this kind of thing. Read the rest here.

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Iran Behind 9/11?

Three days before Christmas a New York Federal Judge George Daniels signed a default judgment that found Iran, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda responsible for 9/11.  The judgment was the end result of a ten year judicial process in which family members of victims of the attacks have been seeking $100 billion from those held responsible.  Previous iterations of the case have seen claims that Saddam Hussein, the Saudi government, and individual Saudi Princes and billionaires were involved rejected by the court.  Somewhat ironically, the Federal government’s Justice Department has never filed charges against anyone claiming that he or she planned or executed 9/11 though it has always been assumed by the media and punditry that it was Osama bin Laden.

Iran is, of course, the flavor du jour for those who seek a new war in the Middle East, so the new “evidence” of its evil nature is being promoted by the usual suspects at the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  Iran did not defend itself in court but witnesses were brought in by the plaintiffs claiming that travel patterns of 9/11 plotters prove that Tehran was complicit in the al-Qaeda attack.  The information used to implicate Iran was known to the 9/11 Commission and President George W. Bush, who concluded that “There was no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of September 11th,” a conclusion also reached by the CIA.  Most intelligence officers working on the Iranian and terrorist targets would also agree that there is zero liklihood that Iran and al-Qaeda could have conspired to attack the United States.

Ironically, if anyone had prior knowledge of 9/11 it was Saudi Arabia, which had been dropped from the case in spite of 16 of 19 hijackers being Saudis, and Israel, which was running large scale illegal intelligence operations directed against Arabs resident in the US.  Saudi intelligence clearly knew about the radicalization of several of the hijackers while Israeli intelligence officers under cover as “movers” danced in front of the burning twin towers in New Jersey’s Liberty Park.  Other movers were arrested driving vans carrying explosives.  The 9/11 Commission did not make a serious effort to determine either the Saudi or Israeli role, but it now appears that somehow the Iranians were responsible.

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Red Christmas

Although on the wrong side of 70, I still get excited about Christmas. It used to mean family holidays, trips, and getting out of boarding school. Now it still means good things, like parties and getting together with my children. And there’s always church and time to give thanks for all the goodies in life. Never mind what some catamites say about God and religion, it’s still the best deal ever.

I’ve had some pretty good Christmases, but I want to tell you about the bleakest one ever, 1944 in Athens, Greece. That summer, German occupying forces had withdrawn northwards and communist and nationalist guerrillas had amassed in the capital. This made for an explosive situation.

During World War II, a Greek government in exile had been formed in the Middle East by the Allies. It was headed by the recently resigned premier’s grandfather and namesake, George Papandreou. My own father had taken him to Marathon Bay, north of Athens, where a British submarine was waiting to deliver him to Cairo. When Dad arrived, Papandreou was with a couple. “I cannot travel without them,” the old lecher muttered. (The man was a professor, and his wife was the lecher’s mistress.) “In that case, you’re not traveling,” said Dad, and Papandreou dropped it, or rather them, and went along sheepishly. Read More…

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