Impeachment proceedings doing the job of the free press…

January 30, 2020

Even though it appears that the chances of removing President Trump via impeachment are nil, and surely the Democratic Party prosecutors must have known this from the beginning, the process probably does serve a useful purpose. We all know a little more about how our foreign policy is made and conducted. It’s not pretty.

A better case might have been made that Trump circumvented the public process and instead used people outside the government, such as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to conduct foreign policy in the shadows. Not sure that is constitutional. But then again no one seems sure on what is constitutional — that’s why we have a Supreme Court (and if you read history you find that originally it was not recognized that even that high court had the power to interpret the constitution, see Marbury v. Madison, but I stray off my point).

Actually, a free press has the job of doing what Rep. Adam Schiff and his colleagues are doing, that is shine light on things the public should know of but are being kept in the dark about.

The right wing, Republicans in general, hate or at least highly distrust the press — that is except when they are hot on the trail of Democrats. Then they hail the virtues of a free press protected by the First Amendment.

A popular tactic, and this is done by members of both major political parties, but it seems like the Republicans do it more often, is to ridicule and intimidate the press. But don’t feel too sorry for the reporters and correspondents who are the victims of all that — they knew or should have known that one has to have a thick hide in the business.

Oh, yeah, I know: conservatives feel that most journalists tend to be liberal. I have written before that this may well be true. I mean by definition liberal has to do with having an open mind and conservative has to do with closing your mind around the status quo (and if things are good why change them? I see that, but it’s a point of view thing).

I do have a problem with the impeachment proceedings as they are being conducted as of now. I was driving yesterday and had a chance to take in, via radio, what was eventually revealed to me to be a phony question and answer session. So Senators are not allowed to talk in this particular proceeding. They write down their questions on note cards and a page carries them up to the Chief Justice, and he reads them. Some of the questions asked for a response from just one side or the other and some from both sides. But as I listened I could not help but notice it all seemed rather scripted. Well, duh, it was, both the radio correspondents and my daily newspaper (online of course) revealed to me. It seems that both sides carefully crafted in advance leading questions or prompts designed to push forward a position or theory of law, most of which had already been asserted. There was little to no fact finding. The Chief Justice, it was reported, reviewed all the questions in advance and even rejected one (or more) that would have called for revealing the name of the whistle blower the Democrats used to back their case.

Since the Republicans are doing their best to prevent any more facts or evidence to be presented, we can put much of the blame on them.

It has been charged, however, by the Republicans, that the Democrats failed to do the proper legal work in preparing their case and that if they wanted to challenge the Trump administration’s efforts to withhold information that they should have gone to court. The Democrats counter that likely by the time anything was resolved in the courts the next election would be over, so the president could go on doing what they are charging are illegal things and tip the scales in his favor in the next election.

Earlier this week or late last week it was thought by some that the John Bolton manuscript might be the smoking gun (like the Nixon tapes were) that would hang Trump, figuratively speaking of course. Nope. Just like the Mueller Report it was not (at least it does not seem so at this time).

History suggests that it is impossible to remove a president by impeachment unless both sides in the end agree that it should be done and because public opinion is on the side of removal. And really that seems the way it should be.

Even Republicans had finally had enough of Nixon (he resigned before he could be impeached and convicted when some Republicans went to the White House and gave him the bad news). Somehow I don’t think Mitch McConnel is going to make such a trip to the White House. He likes his job apparently.

And let us remind ourselves what Trump is being accused of (not every bad thing he has done). He tried to pressure the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on a political opponent, thus using a foreign government to influence a U.S. election. I think everyone knows that is true, even all the Republicans who are staunchly defending Trump. But legal scholar and one member of Trump’s defense team Alan Dershowitz gave them an out in his theory that even if the president may have had the intent of doing what he is accused of doing he also thought it was for the good of the American people, ipso facto, it was ok.

I for one think the whole Joe and son Hunter Biden thing stinks to high heaven, and I am not talking about Trump’s use of the affair to misdirect attention from his own bad dealings. I don’t know all the facts around the Biden scandal but just the appearance of corruption on the part of the Bidens leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not going into any detail about all that now — already have previously and anyone who follows any of this already knows.

But anyway I don’t think anyone actually thinks what Trump did was right or ethical. But even I question whether such action in and of itself rises to the level of an impeachable offense by a sitting president.

And I must note that he is also charged with obstructing congress — but I already referred to the defense argument that essentially goes that such should be litigated separately.

With enough investigation, especially on that shadow foreign policy conducted by Giuliani et al, there probably is an impeachable offense — would be difficult to impossible to get that done probably.

And just what is an impeachable offense? That is the rub.  Not even the legal scholars seem to have a hold on that one — and some have changed their minds over the years, seemingly to fit the circumstances or who they want to support. By the way I think Mr. Dershowitz admitted just that yesterday. He once thought no crime was required but now sees the light I guess. Or he sees fame, of which he may have thought had eroded with his age, and of course a pay check.

The constitution reads that impeachable offenses are: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors”. It does not provide a definition of those terms, high crimes and misdemeanors being the most problematic I think. A parking violation is a misdemeanor in our modern language, but we know they did not mean that. And just what is a high crime? We know what treason means in general, but no specific statute is cited (and I guess there was none at the time). Bribery, same thing — there is an argument that Trump essentially tried to bribe the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on political challenger Joe Biden, but that is kind of sketchy I think.

And there really is not much legal history in the impeachment of a president. Only three (including Trump) have actually been impeached and no one has been removed from office (well not yet, thus far). Nixon did not get to the final impeachment stage but resigned under the pressure from it, as already noted.

I do think it has been established that high crimes and misdemeanors is just a general guide and does not point to specific statutes, none or or nearly none of which would have even been in effect at the time of the adoption of the constitution, even though some are arguing now that a specific crime has to be committed. Seems like impeachment was a check on power and purposely was made vague. A president could get out of hand, even though it well might be hard to imposible to point to a direct violation of law.

If I do another post on all of this I might refer to the Federalist Papers, often cited as outlining the intent of the constitution. I cannot now because I have not read many of them, and have read nothing on what they say as to impeachment (shame on me). I bought a book with all the federalists papers years ago but read little — hard to follow the arcane language and references. But seems apropos here.

 

 

 


For the Democrats, winning in November is the key, and a woman president is a good idea…

January 21, 2020

First it was the Russians who apparently were doing their part to get Donald Trump elected president (whether Trump hinself actively sought help or not), then Trump looked to Ukraine to get help for his re-election.

From what has been reported it seems crystal clear that Trump tried to presssure the Ukranian president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son for suspicious connections to an energy company there whose boss was known to be corrupt. Trump withheld congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine, which faces military incursions by Russia and Russian separatists. He made it sound as if the aid was conditional on the Ukrainian president announcing he was investigating the Bidens (although the Ukrainian president declined). The aid was withheld for a time but eventually supplied. Trump supporters argue that there was no real hold-up in aid, that in fact any delays were just normal. And they argue that there is nothing wrong with the president suggesting corruption be investigated (although it seems a little suspicious that a political opponent was the target for investigation and that Trump himself made the suggestion).

The Demoratically-controlled congress has leveled two impeachment charges against Trump, abuse of power, over the Ukraine matter, and obstruction of congress, stemming from Trump refusing to cooperate with the congressional investigation, not supplying documents and directing administration officials not to testify or otherwise cooperate with the investigation.

I would not shed a tear if Donald Trump is removed from office via impeachment by congress and conviction by the senate — but that is doubtful, what with the senate Republican majority still solidly and quite opening supporting Trump — even though they are now supposed to be sitting as jurors in the impeachment trial that is under way. I think there are four Republicans who could be swayed a little, from what I have been hearing and reading.

But the key for the Democrats really is to win the White House in November. Perhaps the impeachment will help emphasize why that should happen.

But just like in sports where the old saying is it is not whether you win or lose it is how you play the game, but the reality is winning is everything, so too is the case in politics.

(The recent sign stealing scandal in major league baseball seems to indicate how important winning is, and then there was the deflated ball thing in football a couple of yeas back, was it?)

There have always been scandals and skullduggery of course in politics, but we used to have some semblance of propriety, but with the cover the Republicans are giving to Trump (even as they say they don’t always approve of his behavior) as he flouts the law and standards and protocol of the high office, that all seems to be gone. Standards of decency are for losers apparently.

It seems apparent that the Trump campaign either “reached out” (and that is the new way of saying “contacted” in today’s parlance) for the help of the Russians to win the election in 2016 or just took advantage of their help. That coupled with the fact that Trump seems to go out of his way to heap praise and trust on Vladimir Putin, who has just made himself dictator for life in Russia, should make anyone question his loyalty.

It seems Trump was willing to let Ukraine go to his hero Putin if it would not help him dig up dirt on Biden.

And I would not let Biden off the hook, but that is another matter. Trump was not trying to fight corruption, he was more like engaging in it himself, using the power of his office to fend off a political opponent. Trump would do anything to get re-elected.

So the task for those who do not want Trump to continue as president is to make sure he does not win the election in 2020, because winning is everything, or at least it is a prerequisite.

While it would be fine with me if he is kicked out of office by conviction in the senate, it might leave me and other Trump non-supporters with the feeling of illegitimacy, just like when Trump realized he had won the election not by popular vote but by the quirk of the Electoral College. That’s when he had to lie about crowd size and then everything else.

And I am beginning to think it is high time a woman is elected. But not just because she is a woman. And like I just read from someone else, the women candidates would do best to emphasize what they can do for their country rather than the fact that they are women.

Women tend to be more pragmatic than men, making decisions after looking at all the options, and yes, looking for consensus. In that way they are more likely to come up with decisions that are best for the largest number of people (almost no decision is going to be be good for or supported by everyone). And in that way, once announced, their decisions on policy are more likely to get support.

Woman don’t have to worry about being seen as macho. On the other hand, they can make the call. Margaret Thatcher dispatched the British fleet to recover islands that were and still are in British territory off of Argentina. Golda Meir was known for her strong leadership of the nation of Israel.

But since women don’t really have to act tough (although they must exude a strong will in politics), that is strut and act out in public, it seems there would be all the less chance for a knee-jerk reaction on the world stage that could ignite the spark that sets off World War III (which could be short but world ending).

Of course women are just people, and they can be just as corrupt as any man.

We really need to get a handle on this corruption thing. Trump came into office promising to drain the swamp, but only polluted it more with the gangster-like characters he has employed. There were some stalwart public servants but they were run out when they refused to be simply Trump toadies or dared to suggest that the emperor has no clothes. What did that one general say? Trump is an idiot. You just then realized it sir?

One important task for anyone wanting to ensure hers or his victory over Trump is to appeal to the disaffected, I suppose primarily white working class voters who feared they were losing their foothold in society and that politicians, particularly Democrats, who used to be their champions (yeah really), had abandoned them.

I think the Clintons started all that. At first it seemed like a clever and not-so-bad move. They would turn the Democratic Party into are more broad-based organization that recognized and supported the interest not only of workers but business who employs those workers. They were the “New Democrats”.

But in the election of 2016 it was realized that Hillary went a bridge too far. It was reported that she had been making a pretty comfortable living making speeches to Wall Street types, at millions of dollars at a pop (what was she promising them?). She was not talking to labor groups, as far as I read. And out of context or not, she did sound like she meant to put coal miners out of business (oh, yeah she was going to send them all to training school to be computer programers or maybe work at McDonalds). Even so, she probably would have made a fine president, but you have to win first.

As it turns out, winning is everything, at least in the short term.


Impeachment may be a bet on delayed reaction…

January 17, 2020

Hard to gauge whether impeachment was a wise move by the Democrats — I know, they say they had no choice, but that’s nonsense. And that is not to say that the actions congress is accusing President Trump of are not serious.

But will this blow up in the Democrats’ faces? The Russia investigation, with the promise of bombshells on a near weekly basis that were more like little whimpers or nothing at all sure seemed to backfire, and the final report seemed so anti-climatic. Like most everyone else I did not actually read the whole Russia report but you would think if there was any there there it would have had more of visible impact.

But then again, these things can be slow. Over time they can have an effect. Eventually the constant revelations of Trump’s actions may sink into the psychic of the American electorate more than they have so far.

(I am not referring to various opinion polls, which to me seem hard to follow and to be suspect as to methodology; I think if there was enough rage among the public we would know it.)

The out-of-place giggles from Nancy Pelosi on signing the resolution to send the impeachment papers to the senate belied the supposed solemnity of the occasion. Okay, maybe nervous laughter.

And maybe as the senate’s impeachment trial,that began today (Jan 16, 2020), progresses, the GOP majority in the upper house will deal in some self-reflection on their cover for Trump. One must think that the majority does not approve of Trump’s ways but he is their foothold in running the government and implementing primarily domestic policies they favor. So, they make excuses for him. They are his apologists.

All this puts the nation in a precarious position, what with the commander in chief of the armed forces on trial for his very job as president, while international hot sports flare up. While I think most observers feel that the likelihood of conviction is remote (whether they want to admit it or not) the situation would seem to weaken Trump, and thus the nation, on the world stage.

Or Trump might be all the more trigger happy, ready to make risky moves on the world stage to make people afraid of kicking him out of office, lest we lose our leadership in the midst of a crisis.

There are some grave issues of presidential power here that need to be resolved. In the end even though on the one hand this impeachment thing has all the markings of backfire or fiasco, it may serve a valuable purpose.

But at this juncture it seems the best anyone can hope for (well except for Trump supporters) is a censure vote, rather than removal from office.

Censure might have been the better choice over impeachment.

Regardless of what Trump has done it seems to be hard to comprehend that a president can be removed from office outside election unless there is overwhelming public support for that removal. There is not at this time as far as I can see.

And two wrongs do not make a right, but I would not be surprised that if we had the means to dig deep into U.S. presidential history we would find far worse skullduggery than Trump could even dream of.

The state of the economy at or near election, domestic and world events, and continued irrational and extremely crude and even threatening behavior by Trump combined with what the impeachment trial may bring out or re-emphasize from the Russia investigation and congressional hearings will be the deciding factor.

In the end, the impeachment process may have been worth it to the Democrats and the nation as a whole. But if Trump wins re-election, the power and respect for the impeachment process may suffer irreparable damage (not that it has a good track record on presidents).

There is also the danger that impeachment might just become another political tool in partisan politics — more so than it has been on the presidential level.

There has never been a successful presidential impeachment (that is removal from office). I think history indicates the first one against Andrew Johnson after Lincoln’s assassination was purely political (and it failed). Richard Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, but in that case one might say it worked. But he in the end faced bipartisan opposition, something the current Democrats can only hope for.

Bill Clinton’s impeachment, that did not result in conviction, had some amount of legitimacy as to the actual charges against him but was really totally political in nature and failed to get widespread public support.

My guess as of now, as if anyone cares: Trump will beat the rap in the short term but faces some possibility of it coming back to haunt him in November.


Sadly, CNN has become the liberal version of Fox…

January 16, 2020

I’m probably the last to realize this but it appears that CNN has become the liberal version of Fox News.

We all know that Fox is heavily slanted toward the far reactionary right or maybe conservatives or let’s just say on President Trump’s side at least (almost all of the time).

One caveat: it may be that what straight news reporting Fox does may be more of less objective (I am not a regular viewer but I see it enough to know of what I write). Most of what we see and hear from that network is opinion commentary presented as if it were the last word in news. The way much of the broadcast news works these days is that opinion and what purports to be straight news reporting are so intertwined that it is near impossible to discern one from the other.

Sadly, now, this can be said for CNN, in particular, and to a large extent the New York Times when it comes to the print side of the so-called news media (or the “press”, my preferred term).

But let me get to the point now: CNN hit a new low in this past Tuesday’s Democratic debate (really they are forums I think because they don’t follow strict debate rules, but in the popular parlance, or by the presenters of them, they are referred to as debates):

CNN correspondent Abby Phillip asked candidate Bernie Sanders about reports that in 2018 he told current candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren flat out that a woman could not be elected president in the United States. In his answer Sanders flat out denied he ever said that. He made a point blank denial in his response at least twice. After his final denial, Phillip immediately turned to Warren and asked: “Senator Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election.”

So on nationwide television this correspondent took it upon herself to portray that Sanders was lying. I mean he just denied it. Of course none of us, including the correspondent, unless we were there, know whether he said it or not or in what context and what tone. I mean they are politicians. Politicians discuss strategies and speculate on one another’s chances. And maybe Sanders never did say anything like that and maybe he did. The point is the way the correspondent handled the thing shows bias and was totally unfair to Sanders.

And this is what gives the press, journalism, or “the media” as so many, especially anti-press freedom people, like to call it, a bad name.

I know nothing about Ms. Phillip. Maybe her producers or whatever they call her higherups, put her up to it, to frame the question that way. But it was reprehensible and dangerous to press freedom, which is so important. Those who want news people to only say and print good things about the candidates or policies they support will use this kind of thing as ammunition against a free press.

And that is about all I have to say on that at this time.

Well, one more thing:
No matter what Sanders might have said on the topic of whether a woman could be elected it seems rather immaterial here. And he did claim he would support a woman candidate or any of the male candidates who might get the nomination. And, importantly, he noted that Hillary Clinton received three million more votes than Trump — but of course, as we know, through a quirk that is called the Electoral College, Trump won. And I admit he apparently was elected fair and square. Even if the Russians interfered with propaganda, they did not force me or anyone to vote for a particular candidate. I have not read to date that they or anyone actually interfered with the actual voting itself.

Oh, and still another thing:

I think there are too many candidates, although the field is narrowing down. But I would like to see one-on-one debates between the various candidates with full debate rules. Topics could be picked from suggestions from the public. It seems to me the so-called journalists have too much a part, too much sway, in the whole thing. They are supposed to be asking questions in these debates but not framing those questions in such a way that they are biased toward one candidate. The topics up for questions should be a mix of what the journalists as educated observers think is important, yes, but also concerns solicited among the public at large (and I guess to some extent that is done).


A method to Trump’s madness? probably not, but when it works…

January 14, 2020

Is there a method to President Trump’s madness?

Some observers see his decision to take out an Iranian general (on Iraqi soil) a bold move that so far, despite grave threats from Iran, has only met with a token response, missiles lobbed at U.S. bases in Iraq, with an early warning from Iran.

Added to that, the Iranians seemed to have been so nervous or trigger happy that they apparently accidentally shot down a civilian airliner taking off from their capital Tehran, killing all 176 on board. The passengers included people from various parts of the world, as well as Iran itself.

That action has apparently aroused the ire of large numbers of Iranian citizens, who have protested against their own government, but at the same time have vented their anger at the U.S.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is hard pressed to go too far in condemning Iran for the airliner incident seeing as how it (we) did the same thing in 1988 (by accident) during the Iraq-Iran war. The death toll was 290.

I might stop right here to inject the thought I have that airliners do not belong in war zones. But the only problem is that the Middle East is always at war. (We sent most of our troops to Vietnam via commercial airliners).

While many, including me, think that Trump acts by impulse, and a dangerous one at that, others might point out that while other presidents hesitated to take out the infamous general who is credited or blamed for masterminding terror in the Middle East or making use of terrorists as proxies for Iran, Trump took action.

It ain’t over yet I am sure, but some observers claim that Iran, weakened economically by U.S. sanctions over the past decade and only getting worse now (Trump has applied more), is hard pressed and quite reluctant to face the U.S. head-on in combat.

Personally, I am not a militarist or hawk in general. While the war was raging on one side of the world, I did my service in what I call the Beetle Bailey-style U.S. Army, far from danger of flying bullets (except in relatively safe practice) in Germany, but I have one up on a lot of war hawks. I served. What did you do in the war? I might ask any of them, be it Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or whomever.

I’m not at all sure there really is a method to Trump’s madness. His actions show more impulse than anything else. He does not read, by his own admission. He is not into civics, history, geography, or diplomacy as it might ordinarily be recognized.

However, his recent action shows he knows something about dealing from a position of strength.

I don’t want to criticize President Obama, in that I think his Iran nuclear deal (from which Trump has withdrawn the U.S.) was a plausibly good one in that it at least discouraged that nation from going full speed ahead with developing nuclear weapons (or did it? really? I don’t know), thus avoiding another confrontation between the U.S. and others in that part of the world — we have our hands full now.

A problem, though, is that many think Iran has continued its development in secret nonetheless. I always am dubious when I hear that international inspectors have found Iran to be in compliance. Sure Iran or any country, say North Korea, is going to give international inspectors a grand tour of their nuclear facilites, even the ones where they may be actually hard at work on the bomb or new type missiles. Gee maybe they would actually be doing it in a hidden place — you think? And if there is technology that would pick that up, why do we need the inspectors on the ground?

(North Korea developed nuclear weapons and missiles in violation of its agreement over years, apparently going undetected, or we just didn’t want to know?)

Another problem is that Iran continues to be a threat to the stability of the region in that it foments terrorism and is doing its best to work its way into the government of Iraq, one of our nominal allies in the region (who used to be an enemy).

Trump has at least wisely extended an olive branch of peace while a the same time warning Iran to behave or there will be consequences.

And maybe the positive is that the Iranians know that Trump acts more on impulse than anything else, making him all more the dangerous (to them and the U.S. itself one might say).

Curiously, Trump campaigned partly on pulling the U.S. out of the Middle East — while at the same time fighting the terrorists by bombing oil facilities and ports from where they get the product that reportedly finances much of their activity. He has not done that.

In fact, Trump pulled troops out of Syria and abandoned our allies and vaunted fighters, the Kurds, to their enemies the Turks. But he then decided to re-insert some troops to protect the oil as he put it. I can’t stand Trump, but at least he was honest in this one respect, maybe. Our involvement in the Middle East is primarily based on oil. The history of it, intertwined with the protection (and control) of the world oil supply, has to do with the Cold War confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West.

To be brief, much of the misery we find ourselves dealing with in the Middle East is of our own making. We have taken part in toppling governments, some elected by the people, supplied arms to all sides (where there is money to be made), and have killed thousands (millions?) of civilians (caught in the crossfire or standing too close to enemy soldiers or terrorists).

But this is now and we cannot go back. We can only go forward.

Like so much of what Trump does, agree with him or not, and usually I disagree, my concern or notion is all of it could be done without his personally crass and disrespectable behavior towards anyone who challenges him and his policies. His actions and behavior threaten our (small d) democratic government and our much-needed alliances in the world. I mean you can, say, prod the NATO countries into paying and in fact increasing their own dues without insulting them. And a president of the United States should never even suggest that he has any racist thoughts.

I also think it is about time that his prospective Democratic Party challengers tell us in some detail what their foreign policy might look like. They may do so tonight, I don’t know.

Now a presidential candidate cannot and should not go into every minute detail with scenerios and all that. The idea of telegraphing adversaries is nonsense and dangerous, but we need an outline, a realistic and sound clue.

One reason for Trump’s wishy washiness in the Middle East, to stay or to go, is that saying one thing on the stump is a lot easier than facing the real facts once you have the job.

In terms of foreign policy maybe what we need is a kinder and gentler Trump, I just doubt that Trump himself can fill the bill.

And I personally don’t buy the argument used by so many Trump supporters that you just have to excuse his rudeness because that is just him. No, that rudeness is doing what could be irreperable harm to our democracy or to our democratic republic and our relations with the world. And what a terrible example to young people. Are we teaching them that incivility and ignornace is a positive?

We are not an island unto ourselves.

A lot of young people or a lot of not-so-young people have a scant knowledge of history or any at all (of history). But while the United States came out of World War II in 1945 as the strongest nation on the planet and has maintained that post all this time, it has not been without help. The Western allies might not have won the war without us, but we probably would not have won it without them. It was a team effort. Since then we fended off the Soviet Union and its then Eastern European satellite nations with the combined forces of most of the Western European nations, called NATO, standing at the ready. And we fought a hot war in Southeast Asia, Vietnam to be precise, that was a proxy war with the Soviet Union, with the help of something called SEATO. Austrailians and South Koreans (and others?) fought valiantly. While we lost that one we did do much to weaken the Soviet Union in the process. It eventually dissolved as a result of draining itself of resources with too much military spending in general and getting mired in its own Vietnam, called Afghanistan (and darn it if the U.S. has not fallen into the Afghanistan tar baby trap since).


In the real world presidents have the upper hand in war powers, but public support is crucial…

January 10, 2020

For all my adult life I have heard the continuing argument over who has the power to decide whether the United States engages in war — the congress or the president?

To some extent the argument is academic.

What I mean is that in the real world it is both the president and congress but with more power going to the president. And I base this primarily on just reading the news during all that time.

I am not prepared to present a treatise or constitutional argument or analysis on war powers but that does not prevent me from making some sincere observations.

Right off the top, one has to ask what constitutes “war”? especially constitutionally wise. I mean is it any time U.S. forces face or fire on forces of another country or entity?

Another question might be: what is a declaration of war? or what form must it be in? I mean we always are told that the constitution requires congress make a declaration of war before we can become involved in a war. I could look up the actual wording but that is not my point here.

So my point is that it has been argued that in many cases since World War II, in which things were handled formally with President Franklin Roosevelt requesting a declaration of war against Japan (and the axis powers) and congress passing the declaration, presidents have waged war without congressional authorization. Well maybe, but I am a little puzzled.

The most notable was Vietnam. Or maybe Korea, but I’ll get back to that.

Vietnam began as a situation in which I don’t think anyone would call it a war waged by the United States. We sent military advisors (well kind of same difference, a matter of scale). But over time that blossomed into full-scale direct involvement — 500,000 troops at its height in over a decade of involvement.

There was no declaration of war as such but there was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, passed by congress — without picking all that apart, it seems to me that was for all intents and purposes a declaration of war.

In our nation’s beginning we fought the Barbary Coast pirates of North Africa and their supporting fiefdoms at various times without formal congressional authorization most of the time.

Okay, back to Korea. It is often stated that President Harry Truman sent troops to Korea after North Korea invaded South Korea without a declaration of war. Instead he called it a “police action” and arranged it all under the auspices of an operation headed by the United Nations, thus circumventing congress. So I have not done my research but surly congress had to pass various measures to fund the thing. So it must have approved.

And that is the key. In the end, if not necessarily in the beginning, congress has the final say. It can cut off funds. Now that is not very practical, and in fact insane. History, if not constitutional law, proves presidents can and will send troops (by this I mean all forms of armed force including the navy, and aircraft, manned and unmanned) into battle without asking permission of congress, for reasons of time, practicality, and politics. Once troops are committed if things progress to any prolonged conflict congress is faced with virtually no choice to authorize it all (spend money) lest it be accused and in fact guilty of “not supporting the troops”.

There is a third power here, though, it is called public opinion. Public opinion can stop a war but it may be a slow process and come far too late. But that is how the Vietnam war, which cost us nearly 60,000 dead and thousands of severely wounded over a decade, ended, with a whimper. Public opinion finally forced congress to stop paying for it.

Depending on that method to rule on our involvement in war to me seems both highly impractical and immoral. There was strong if not overwhelming public opinion from the beginning against involvement in Vietnam, in which the U.S. was not attacked, but mostly young American soldiers were committed nonetheless. We of course had mandatory service via the draft then. Not everyone had to serve. But young men were drafted under threat of imprisonment if they did not report. Lives were cut short and loved ones were lost for no gain whatsoever in a hopeless war — hopeless from the start really.

At least in Korea we saved an ally, South Korea.

In terms of practicality, no matter how one interprets the constitution, the president conducts foreign policy and constitutionally is designated as commander in chief of the armed forces. The executive must have the leeway at least in the short term to use those forces for purposes of immediate self-defense and to carry out the foreign policy as well.

If, for example, our merchant ships were fired upon on the open seas, surly the president does not need or have time to get an authorization from congress to react. If a missile is fired at the U.S. or its people or troops, the president has the authority, must have, to respond. There are too many contingencies to cite, but you get the picture.

One problem is that when a president conducts foreign policy, such as being in support of a nation or nations or causes (you know, the cause of spreading democracy or defending it), that action has a tendency to develop into full-fledged war. For that reason presidents should get solid backing for their actions rather than act like a dictator, to do otherwise is deadly folly.

What we have today is a divided nation and divided government without an ability to form consensus.

We need leadership. With dictatorship there is leadership, but that is not the kind that is preferable for the cause of democracy.

It is not a bad thing to debate military involvement, even when things seem to be in progress. We could have used more debate and more thought concerning our prolonged and costly and mostly unsuccessful involvements in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, and our policy toward Iran.

p.s.

Currently our involvement in the Middle East on several fronts has at least two congressional authorizations (if not more), although those authorizations are stretched to the limit as to their interpretations. The House of Representatives over the past 24 hours passed a resolution against continued military action against Iran, but it was called symbolic, since the senate is not likely to go along with it. This was under the War Powers Act, which I did not address above. The War Powers Act has not stopped a war yet, as far as I can recall.


Trump plays a game of chicken, if he loses, we all do…

January 9, 2020

I hope that no one who read my last blog post thought I meant President Trump’s speech Wednesday in the aftermath of the U.S. vs Iran flareup that included his vow to not let Iran get a nuclear weapon and to at the same time force it to behave would make me consider voting for him. No never. I’m just glad that for now (and we are not sure) both nations have stepped back from the brink of all-out war. He did seem to offer Iran an olive branch, saying the U.S. would be willing to deal so that both nations could live in peace — but only if Iran behaves.

It seemed to me that the president, who was quite a bit late in appearing from the announced schedule, looked nervous. But he made his points forcefully, nonetheless, and only stumbled on a couple lines (hey, you’d be nervous too). And if he did indeed manage to off a high-level Iranian bad guy and only draw a token response from Iran, and if the U.S. economy keeps going at a good clip then it seems he may well have a path to victory next fall. That’s just the way it is.

To recap of course, Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and it was carried out by an American drone or drones at or near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The Trump administration claims the action was a response to an imminent threat (that of course is debatable), but imminent or not, most everyone seems to be in agreement the general masterminded a lot of killing in the Middle East, including that of our service members — guiding terror groups Iran uses as proxies and spearheading the use of those infamous roadside bombs that have killed so many, including thousands of our soldiers. In return for the assassination Iran vowed to take major revenge. It did fire missiles at two American military installations in Iraq with apparently no casualties and only relatively minor damage. Some say it was meant to be that way because Iran really does not want an all-out war with the U.S. Others say it is not over. No clear message from Iran itself yet. Deeds will tell more than words of course.

Meanwhile there is a tussle on Capitol Hill between the Democrats and the Republican Trump administration on the release of credible evidence the killing was necessary, that is there was an imminent threat, as well as over the war powers of the president acting unilaterally without the consent of congress, which he thus far has in the current situation. Even a few Republicans are grumbling.

But for those who support Trump it is the same old infuriating argument that you cannot question what the president is doing in the time of war or military crisis because it threatens our security. So I guess the trick for a president to get his way on anything is to get us into war or other military action somewhere and then he becomes a dictator.

Hey, Franklin Roosevelt had to stand for re-election in the middle of World War II; congress was not suspended either.

Yes, if Russia or North Korea, or even Iran, fired a missile at the continental United States the president would not have to consult congress to take defensive action. No one argues that. And there could be less dire actions that might require an immediate response where the president can act. But before we get involved in a prolonged down and out war, congress must be or should be consulted. Actually the president is supposed to ask for a declaration of war.

The Japanese pulled a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and sunk or destroyed or disabled a large portion of  America’s Pacific fleet and other military equipment and killed nearly 3,000. President Roosevelt went before congress and asked for a declaration of war.

But since then presidents have just taken it upon themselves to send troops more or less at their own will and using justifications that were arguable. Congress has often been all but forced to pass resolutions, sometimes after the fact, facing the argument that they have to support the troops — you would not have to support the troops if you did not send them. And what if at some point you find that it was the wrong move or it is not working out — are you simply stuck to slog it out as casualties mount because you have to “support the troops?” The logic here escapes me. Support the troops to me means give them everything they need while they are engaged or in the combat zone, but does not mean policy cannot be discussed or debated (although before the fact is preferable). Putting a freeze on policy debate results in long, fruitless, and unnecessary wars. And actually because we tend to send troops into battle without a consensus troops may not get the support that they need.

However, it is true that we live in far different times than when our forefathers wrote the constitution and assigned war powers to the congress, not the president. Things move much faster now and the nature of war is far different. We don’t always have the luxury of time to react and wars are not generally fought as set piece battles these days.

Even so, I think it is a bad thing that so much power is given to the president and that he (or she if the case were to be) cannot be questioned. This has led to the lies and half truths that resulted in our involvement in Vietnam and more recently Iraq — those WMDs that were never found and probably never existed. And let’s don’t forget we now have the Afghanistan papers that indicate we have made major blunders in that nation but were assured everything was progressing quite nicely.

There is school of thought that says the mullahs of Iran know that if they went too far in egging on the U.S. and if we responded in kind they might face a revolt of their own people. The mullahs know that so they will back down.

I guess we can keep on hoping that.

And even if I don’t like Trump’s style, and I don’t, I do like seeing an American president have resolve (but Trump has a short attention span).

President Trump is playing a game of chicken.

Did you ever watch that 1950s James Dean movie Rebel Without a Cause?

I just hope Trump is not the one who gets his sleeve caught in the door handle, if so, we all lose.

p.s.

Trump did it again Wednesday and I sure wish he’d get over it. He blamed it all on Obama. Is this a case of a white man being jealous of a black man? It is so undignified, not that Trump has any dignity.