I could not disagree more, Erick.
Comments like this are part of the reason I was never able to relate to modern American Conservatism as a political ideology. The idea that the President shouldn’t need to consult Congress on foreign policy matters strikes me as a subplot of the “Strong Leader” paradigm that many Conservative opinion leaders talk about. And this obsession with the President being a “Strong Leader” is toxic. It is even more toxic when a “Strong Leader” is defined as a person who dictates U.S. foreign policy unilaterally. It’s an idea that is as scary as it is incoherent from a legal standpoint.
What is strange about Erickson’s comment is that he criticized Obama elsewhere for exceeding the Constitutional limits of Executive Power. He has railed against the Obama administration taking unilateral action under the Affordable Care Act. But apparently Erickson has no concern about the President unilaterally sending American troops to other countries without Congressional authorization.
It’s possible that Erickson was using “foreign policy” to refer strictly to diplomatic relations with other countries. But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The term “foreign policy” encompasses military action. That necessarily includes things like dropping bombs on countries the U.S. government doesn’t like. And given that Erickson made this statement in the same paragraph that he mentions ISIS, it sure seems like he’s not just talking about diplomacy here. To wit, here is the whole paragraph I took the above quote from:
The past six years have seen the undoing of almost seventy years of gains abroad. Foreign policy is the one area the President does not have to rely on Congress. The inter-party fighting should not matter. But China is rattling its sabers, Russia has crossed into Ukraine, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, ISIS is cutting off American heads, commercial airliners are missing in Libya, and the list goes on.
What exactly is the U.S. President supposed to do about all this? The President realistically only has three coercive foreign policy tools at his disposal: the bully pulpit, economic sanctions, and war. The Obama administration has already declared economic sanctions against Russia. What else should it do? The Ukraine is an independent state where many of the residents are sympathetic to Russia and welcome Russia’s involvement in the region. There is little the Obama Administration can realistically do here unless they want to start a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine—a war in which a number of Ukrainians would probably fight against the U.S.
The Obama administrations options with China are also few in number. There is basically nothing that can be done against China because (a) they have a large, capable military, (b) the U.S. economy benefits handsomely from Chinese commerce, and (c) the Chinese government is a sizable creditor of the U.S. treasury. Any drastic measures taken against the Chinese government would inevitably double back and bite the U.S. in the ass, because both countries are, at this point, heavily invested in one another’s future.
Here is the bottom line: the President cannot Constitutionally declare a war. Only Congress can. It is unfortunately true that Congress has not actually declared war on another country for a long time. It is also true that numerous Presidents of both parties have deployed U.S. military forces into war zones without Congressional approval. But that does not change the fact that under Article I, § 8, cl. 11 of the U.S. Constitution, not a single American soldier ought to be anywhere near the middle east without Congressional authorization. Erick Erickson’s fear of ISIS does not change the wording of the Constitution he claims to revere. Nor does it make his tacit approval of the atrocious piece of legislation known as the AUMF any more coherent when measured against Article I of that same Constitution.
Erick Erickson wants a President who will “keep him safe and get out of his way.” Fair enough. But from where I stand, the “Strong Leader” Erick Erickson wants in the White House is someone who will ignore Congress on foreign policy, and isn’t afraid to start wars—and not just with powerless third-world nations and isolated dictators—but wars with countries that are large and powerful enough that a large-scale armed conflict would be a catastrophic event (e.g. China, Russia).
That makes me feel less safe. I want a leader who is extraordinarily hesitant to go to war. I’m tired of the U.S. leaking blood and treasure from its pores to bomb other countries. I’m also tired of the boondoggles and unintended consequences that seem to accompany every recent attempt by the U.S. to militarily intervene in other countries’ affairs. And none of this is to suggest that I think the Democratic party or the Obama administration are angels. But if Erick Erickson’s version of the President is any indication of what the modern American Conservative movement deems to be a competent leader, I want no part of it.
Last year’s message seems equally relevant today:
On the anniversary of 9/11, we should recommit ourselves to ensuring that we don’t allow fear to determine our public policy choices. We should learn the unmistakable lesson of the past 12 years: that trading liberty for more security is a false choice that leads us down a dark path. As Justice Brennan said in 1988:
For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. After each perceived security crises ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary. but it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along.
Let us recommit ourselves to not making this error again. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
With the apparent death of another journalist at the hands of ISIS, it seems like a good time to reflect on what these executions are actually intended to achieve, and how world governments should respond to it.
Sensational violence is a tool used by extremist groups to draw large countries into guerrilla-style conflicts that they historically cannot win. Asymmetrical warfare is the bailiwick of non-state actors. It is why the U.S. lost in Vietnam, Russia lost in Afghanistan, and why despite spending billions of dollars and over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither peace nor political stability have been achieved in either country. It is the same reason why rockets continue to rain down on Israel despite decades of military attempts to route militants out of Gaza, and also why the British government was unable to bring the IRA to heel through its military might alone.
There is no military solution to ISIS. If you want to understand why, I encourage you to read Matthew Hoh’s remarkable and well-informed take on the issue:
American military involvement will serve as an accelerant to and a prolonger of this Iraqi civil war. American bombs, bullets and dollars will further strengthen the bond between Sunnis and extremist groups like ISIS, increasing Sunni desperation by intensifying their backs to the wall dilemma and justifying the propaganda and rhetoric of ISIS: a narrative of a Western campaign of international subjugation enacted through Shia, Kurdish and Iraqi ethnic minority puppets. Further, such American support will strengthen the resolve of the al-Maliki government not to reform and not to address Sunni grievances. With the renewed backing of American might and money, al-Maliki’s government will feel no need to restore a balance of power in Iraq and will continue a policy of disenfranchisement and marginalization of the Sunni population and leadership. Only by withholding support to al-Maliki’s government, and not by sending advisers, tomahawk missiles or cash, will there be a reason for al-Maliki’s government to negotiate and seek peace.
The Iraqi and Kurdish militaries are fighting ISIS, but peace will only be achieved in Iraq when Sunnis are given a meaningful opportunity to participate in Iraq’s Democratic institutions. Until that happens, groups like ISIS will always be able to take advantage of the resentment of oppressed political minorities in order to create an atmosphere of instability and violence. Extremism breeds in places where political oppression and poverty are rampant. Give people access to public institutions, and lift them up economically, and groups like ISIS begin to atrophy and die for lack of a receptive audience. Extremists still exist in wealthy countries, but they don’t have enough resources or influence to conquer and lord over an entire jurisdiction. That alone is sufficient to show the effectiveness of economic prosperity and political enfranchisement over military solutions, which can never succeed at stamping out extremist movements without a political solution that enfranchises people and lifts them out of the desperate economic conditions that so often serve as a breeding ground for radical violent movements.
Matthew Hoh, former State Dep’t foreign service officer. Hoh resigned in 2009 in protest of what he believed to be a counterproductive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
President Obama, as he announced tonight that he’s authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq, along with a humanitarian effort to aid stranded Iraqi civilians who fled advancing Sunni militant fighters. He said the U.S. would not be drawn into war. (via latimes)
LTMC: "He said the U.S. would not be drawn into war."
From the article:
TRIPOLI, Libya - A rocket hit a fuel storage tank containing 1.5 million gallons of gasoline, triggering a major blaze as rival brigades of former rebels fought for control of Tripoli’s main airport. A huge cloud of black smoke billowed across the capital’s skyline on Monday and Libya’s government asked for international help to try to contain the disaster. A spokesman for the National Oil Company said the blaze was burning “out of control,” adding that firefighters had withdrawn from the area.
Foreign governments have looked on powerless as anarchy sweeps across the North African oil producer, three years after NATO bombardment helped topple dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The U.S., United Nations and Turkish embassies have already shut operations after the worst violence since the 2011 uprising. Two weeks of clashes among rival factions killed nearly 160 people in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. Since Gadhafi’s demise, Libya has struggled to keep its transition to democracy on track, with its parliament deadlocked by infighting among factions and militias often using threats of force against political rivals. Many heavily armed former anti-Gadhafi fighters refuse to hand over weapons and continue to rule the streets.
Libya is the foreign policy gift that just keeps on giving.
Remember that time the U.S. shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over Iranian airspace, killing all 290 on board, including 66 children, and then refused to apologize for doing it?
"I will never apologize for the United States. I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." — Vice President (and then-presidential candidate) George H.W. Bush, commenting on the downed airliner, 8/2/1988
That quote makes me sick.
LTMC: I actually did not know about this. My only defense is that I was 4 years old at the time, and the government apparently did a great job of glossing over the history books on this one. Also, that GHWB quote is solid gold, thought not as solid as the solid gold dancers.
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Ugh why must I be such a fuckup all the time.
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