Thursday, September 19, 2013

Obama Acts Like He Doesn't Know He's an Executive-Power Extremist

Obama Acts Like He Doesn't Know He's an Executive-Power Extremist

Even as Obama implies that he is a circumspect steward of constitutional democracy, he asserts that even absent “a direct or imminent threat,” he has absolute power to wage war without congressional support, the Constitution and the opinions of the demos be damned. If the passage ended there it would be staggering in its internal tension. As Jack Goldsmith explained in detail, intervening in Syria without congressional sign-off would “push presidential war unilateralism beyond where it has gone before.” Asserting that power without using it is still an extreme position to take.

Obama goes a delusion farther. Ostensibly because he hasn’t yet intervened, even though he repeatedly and needlessly asserts his right to do so unilaterally, he casts himself as moving away from unilateralism and toward consulting Congress. The benefits are “especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president,” he notes, “while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.”

The grammar is priceless. Who “put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president”? In Obama’s telling, “a decade” put the executive power there.

The absence of a human subject in the sentence isn’t hard to figure out. For all President George W. Bush’s faults, he sought and received majority support for the Patriot Act, the September 2001 AUMF, the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq. Obama’s expansion of the drone war and his illegal war-making in Libya didn’t turn out as bad as Iraq, so it’s hard to see him as a worse president, but Obama has done more than Bush to expand the war-making power of the White House. As for “sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force,” it’s Obama who went into Libya despite the fact that a House vote to approve U.S. involvement was brought to the floor and voted down.