Obama Setting Important Precedent in Taking Syria Decision To Congress

I am still waiting to see what specifically is planned, but it is hard to imagine military intervention in Syria which will be much more than symbolic in opposition to the use of sarin gas. While I question Obama’s military plans, he deserves tremendous credit for his decision to honor the Constitution and take the matter before Congress. Walter Shapiro discussed the significance of this:

…the president, a former part-time constitutional law professor, may have also belatedly recalled the wording of Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution that grants Congress the sole power “to declare war.”

But whatever Obama’s underlying motivations and however the Syrian vote plays out on Capitol Hill, the president’s decision to go to Congress represents an historic turning point. It may well be the most important presidential act on the Constitution and war-making powers since Harry Truman decided to sidestep Congress and not seek their backing to launch the Korean war.

Just a few days ago, before Obama’s decision was known, legal scholars from both the right and the left were in agreement that waging war over Syria – no matter how briefly – without congressional approval would bend the Constitution beyond recognition.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served as a Bush administration lawyer during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, wrote in the legal blog Lawfare, “The planned use of military force in Syria is a constitutional stretch that will push presidential war unilateralism beyond where it has gone before.” And liberal constitutional scholar Garrett Epps, writing for the Atlantic , concluded, “It’s pretty clear that an American attack would violate the Constitution.”

Shapiro summarized past decisions by presidents to use military power and concluded:

No American lives are in danger and the national security threat is hard to identify. Not only is NATO not participating, but also neither are the Brits, the United State’s closest diplomatic ally. With Russia serving as Assad’s enabler, there will be no Security Council resolution or UN mandate.

Every time a president employs questionable legal arguments to wage war, it becomes a valuable tool for the next Commander in Chief impatient with the constitutional requirement to work through Congress. That’s why it would have been so dangerous for Obama to go forward in Syria without a congressional vote or the support of the UN or NATO. It is as much of a slippery slope argument as the contention that Iran, say, would be emboldened with its nuclear program if America did not punish Assad’s chemical attacks.

Assuming Obama wins congressional approval, America’s coming attack on Syria is designed to set a lasting precedent: No government can ever again use chemical, biological – let alone nuclear – weapons without facing devastating consequences. As Obama asked rhetorically in his Saturday Rose Garden statement, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”

But Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval may prove to be an even more important precedent. Future presidents – as they consider unilateral military action without American security hanging in the balance – will have to answer, “Why didn’t you go to Congress like Obama did over Syria?”

Confronted with a series of wrenching choices over Syria, Obama chose the course that best reflects fidelity to the Constitution as written. Hopefully, in the days ahead, taking that less traveled road by presidents will make all the difference.

I am not optimistic that any military action will make a difference as to whether WMD is used by future dictators. I am more hopeful that Obama is setting an important precedent here which may affect future decisions by American presidents to go to war. Next I am hoping that by the time Obama leaves office we have a better system for the institutionalization of conducting war in the modern era on issues ranging from drone strikes to surveillance. It is also amusing to see conservatives who have been making absurd claims of dictatorship under Obama now attack him for his decision to follow the Constitution.

Not All Drones Are Bad

This story about  drones being used to deliver beer in South Africa provides a good example about the dangers of generalization, such as believing all drones are bad:

Revellers at a South African outdoor rock festival no longer need to queue to slake their thirst — a flying robot will drop them beer by parachute.

After clients place an order using a smartphone app, a drone zooms 15 metres (50 feet) above the heads of the festival-goers to make the delivery.

Carel Hoffmann, director of the Oppikoppi festival held on a dusty farm in the country’s northern Limpopo province, said the app registers the position of users using the GPS satellite chips on their phones.

“The delivery guys have a calibrated delivery drone. They send it to the GPS position and drops it with a parachute,” he explained.

Even Rand Paul has tweeted that he’s not against all drones in response to this story. Alcohol appears to be the common denominator when Paul considers the use of drones, such as with his previous statement in support of using drones against someone robbing a liquor store: “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.” Paul is also having difficulty in using numbers and coherently discussing economic issues.

John Kerry’s Major Achievement

Thomas Friedman acknowledges the difficulties in negotiating peace between Israel and the Palestinians but also praises John Kerry for getting them this close, and offers some hope that the negotiations could be successful:

Secretary of State John Kerry has pulled off a major achievement in getting Israelis and Palestinians to say yes to the United States. Can he now get them to say yes to each other?

I admire Kerry’s doggedness in getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table for the first time in five years, in part by making clear that whoever said no to America’s urging that they resume talks would be called out publicly. I also like the fact that Kerry dared to fail. It is how you make history as a secretary of state. It can also be helpful to him going forward. Even a little success like this breeds more authority, and more authority can breed more success in other arenas.

That said, the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian deal remain slim. Indeed, if these negotiations were a play, it would be called: “When the Necessary Met the Impossible.”

So why should we even bother? I’ve always thought that the most important rule of journalism is: Never try to be smarter than the story. There is every reason to doubt that these talks will succeed, but when you look under the hood of this story you find there were some powerful forces propelling both sides to say yes to Kerry — and at least consider saying yes to each other, so it’s worth letting this play out a little….

A peace agreement would be fantastic in terms of conditions in the region, and might play a part in domestic politics. If Kerry pulls this off, he will receive tremendous favorable coverage, and probably win the Nobel Peace Prize and be Time‘s Man of the Year. He then would be in a position that no politician has been in since Richard Nixon–losing a general election and then becoming a credible candidate years later. With the demographic changes making it harder for Republicans to win states outside of the deep south and the smaller western states, winning the Democratic nomination may be more difficult than winning the general election.  Hillary Clinton might not look like such a sure thing if Kerry succeeds in brokering a peace agreement. Not only would his record as Secretary of State be far greater than Clinton’s, there is no comparison when comparing their achievements in the Senate.

Trailer for The Next Doctor

Sunday on BBC One. Simulcast in the United States on BBC America and in Canada on Space at 2 pm Eastern Time.

Kerry Brings About Resumption Of Mideast Peace Talks

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. It is too early to say whether the talks will be successful, but it is a hopeful sign that the two parties are engaging in direct negotiations for the first time since 2008 and an attempt in 2010 which quickly fell apart.

Getting this far is a promising sign from John Kerry in just his first year as Secretary of State. Imagine how much better the world might be if things had turned out differently and he had won in 2004, completing his second term as president last year (with perhaps a Barack Obama with four additional years of Washington experience starting his first term this January). A few more voting booths in Democratic urban areas of Ohio might have made all the difference–something to keep in mind as Republicans increasingly turn to voter suppression as an election tactic.

SciFi Weekend: Dexter Returns; Prince Charles Does Dalek Impersonation; The John Hurt Doctor

Episode 801

There will be a short edition this week as I continue to vacation in the location of Somewhere In Time (although not because of the mediocre time travel movie).  I haven’t seen hardly any genre television, but did download the first episode of the season of Dexter and watched one night over the past week.

Dexter resumed six months after Deb shot LaGuerta, with Dexter holding up much better than Deb. However, as we know that this is the final season, there are a few possible situations developing which could lead to Dexter’s downfall. Deb says she shot the wrong person and, while so far I wouldn’t make this my top prediction, this could lead to her ultimately either killing Dexter or turning him (and possibly herself) in. Dexter killed the criminal which Deb was investigating/living with and didn’t dispose of the body in his usual manner, possibly leading him to become implicated either for this crime or becoming at risk from the criminals after the jewels. The biggest risk to Dexter may come from Dr. Vogel, who knows about Dexter’s past, having assisted Harry in developing the code. She is overly confident over her own safety, telling Dexter he cannot kill her because she doesn’t fit the code, considering that Dexter has broken it several times. From the previews it appears that she wants to use Dexter to kill off someone else, which is yet another potential source of danger for Dexter.

Vulture has an interview with Charlotte Rampling, who plays Dr. Vogel.

charles-and-camill_2607755k

Prince Charles did a Dalek impersonation and The Telegraph had some potential spoilers about the identity of the John Hurt (nothing which hasn’t already been speculated about on line).

Costume designer Howard Burden, who showed the royal couple a selection of costumes from the show, disclosed that the anniversary episode will feature John Hurt, who will play a “dark Doctor” seen briefly at the end of the last series.

He said: “There was a gap between Paul McGann playing the Doctor and Christopher Eccleston, when we didn’t see a regeneration, and John Hurt will fit into that gap. He is a past Doctor, not a future Doctor.”

Looking Ahead to 2016

Here’s the plan for all my friends from the 2004 campaign. It is admittedly a long shot. As Secretary of State, John Kerry brings about peace in the middle east, brokers a world-wide agreement on reducing carbon emissions (especially looking impressive when he gets China to go along), and convinces Great Britain to give us their secret as to why they have so many cool TV shows which we have to pirate here.

People question why we didn’t elect John Kerry in 2004, realizing that pictures of him wind surfing were not a good reason for him to go down to defeat. Kerry gets the 2016 Democratic nomination, nobody believes anything from the Swift Boat Liars, and John Kerry gets elected president. As an added benefit, American TV finally gets Torchwood right.

There Really Is A War On Christmas

While the American right wing and Fox are whining about nonsense in the United State (appealing to the need of conservatives to feel like a victim) it turns out there really is a war on Christmas–in Saudi Arabia:

Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.

The raid is the latest in a string of religious crackdowns against residents perceived to threaten the country’s strict religious code.

The host of the alleged Christmas gathering is reported to be an Asian diplomat whose guests included 41 Christians, as well as two Saudi Arabian and Egyptian Muslims. The host and the two Muslims were said to be “severely intoxicated.”

The guests were said to have been referred to the “respective authorities.” It is unclear whether or not they have been released since.

The kingdom, which only recognizes Islamic faith and practice, has in the past banned public Christmas celebrations, but is ambiguous about festivities staged in private quarters.

Saudi religious police are known to detain residents of the kingdom at whim, citing loose interpretations of Sharia and public statements by hardline religious leaders to justify crackdowns.

Saudi Arabia’s head mufti Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah had previously condemned “invitations to Christmas or wedding celebrations.”

Romney Unable To Shake Etch A Sketch On His Candid Opinions

The secretly taped comments from Mitt Romney continue to dominate the political news today. Romney’s comments were wrong on so many levels. Beyond the obvious problems of his attack on nearly half the country and on those who legitimately need assistance, he is so out of touch that he doesn’t realize he is actually attacking Republican voters. Despite the right wing myth that they are the job creators and Democrats are welfare leaches, a large percentage of those not paying income taxes are Republican voters. This includes the low-information white male voters who make up a huge percentage of GOP voters–many of these pay payroll taxes but don’t make enough to pay income taxes. Many are also elderly Republican voters who no longer have an income to pay income tax on. Those not paying taxes also include students (who might become job creators after completing their education) and members of the military (who might also be future job creators).

Many low income voters do vote for Democrats, but a tremendous number also vote Republican. The biggest recipients of federal government aide are the red states, not the blue states. While Obama now receives the vast majority of all Democratic constituencies, his greatest support has come from upper middle class Democrats and independents  (in contrast to the less affluent Democrats who backed Clinton in 2008). In offending all the Obama supporters who pay a larger percentage of their income than Romney does,  Romney’s comment might help Obama keep the portion of the independent vote which has drifted away.

On the other hand, if Mitt Romney had his way, he would be joining those who pay no income taxes.

Another irony is that the increased number of working Americans who do not pay federal income taxes is largely a consequence of GOP tax cuts. In order to cut taxes on the wealthy they have had to reduce income taxes on others. It was George Bush and Ronald Reagan who pushed policies which led to many lower income working people not paying taxes, while also cutting taxes on the wealthy.

If things weren’t already bad enough, another video was released in which Romney showed hostility towards the peace process and two-state solution in the middle east. He already showed during his trip to Israel that he will not be able to be an honest broker in a peace settlement. This video further shows his inability to handle foreign affairs.

Romney’s Travel Troubles Continue

Romney’s international travels gave Jon Stewart a lot of material (video above). Things weren’t as bad for Romney in Poland as they were in London and Israel. He did receive the endorsement of Lech Walesa, but Solidarity distanced themselves, criticizing Romney because he “supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.” Romney was also greeted with chants for Obama and even ran into supporters of Ron Paul while in Poland.

The trip provided another example of Romney’s dishonesty. He denied making the controversial comments which he did make about Palestinian culture in Israel. Greg Sargent found that Romney made the same fallacious argument in his book, No Apology.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak undermined the Republican argument against Obama on Israel in this interview with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: You’ve studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?

BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.

BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?

BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.

Steve Benen debunked another anti-Obama talking from the Romney campaign on Israel:

Beth Myers, a top Romney aide, also told reporters recently that it’s “pretty amazing” Obama hasn’t visited Israel.

The attack at least has the benefit of being partially accurate — Obama visited Israel as a candidate, but has not been back during his first term. If Republicans choose to find that outrageous, their complaints are grounded in fact.

The problem, however, is the selective nature of their disgust. George W. Bush didn’t visit Israel at any point during his first term, and neither did Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush didn’t travel to Israel during their respective terms in office at all.

Many journalists have questioned whether Romney’s gaffes will harm him in the campaign. Chris Cillizza downplayed the damage:

It’s hard to imagine that Romney did himself any favors in answering lingering questions about his foreign policy acumen during this trip.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that nothing — literally, nothing — other than the economy at home matters to undecided voters. And that goes double for foreign policy, which is a bottom-of-mind issue (is that a thing?) for most voters.

In a late May Washington Post-ABC News poll, 1 — yes, one — percent of people said that foreign policy was the most important issue of the 2012 campaign. One!

Of course this might be the case when voters think that either candidate is capable of handling foreign policy. This could change as voters see that Romney is as inept as George Bush.