Archive for March 29th, 2011


I wrote recently of my decision to support the intervention in Libya, and the difficulty of that decision. I have rarely seen a question that has so divided people, and it’s happened on both the left and the right. I struggled with the question because there are good arguments both for and against the now-NATO-led military action there.

There’s one argument, though, that does not have much merit, though. That’s the issue of Obama’s not seeking Congressional authorization for this action. And the fact that it doesn’t have merit raises a whole set of new questions that all Americans, as well as the masses around the world affected by American foreign policy, need to consider most seriously.

Obama pointing the way to bypass obstructionist Republicans

Let’s start with the legal issue. Some members of Congress seem to either ignore or be ignorant of the US Constitution.  Congress has the exclusive power to declare war, a provision meant to check the power of the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But there was no war declared here on Libya. In no way can this action be called unconstitutional.

Even Obama got this wrong when, in a 2007 interview while he was still a Senator running for the big job, he said: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Though he does go on to say, correctly, that, “History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.” The problem, as I’ll address below, is that this Congress has made that option considerably less than preferable.

But is Obama’s action legal? After successive presidents got the US caught up in Asian quagmires in Korea and, most especially Vietnam (including, of course, the fabrication deceiving Congress about US forces being attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, though the US had already been involved in Vietnam by that time for years), the Congress, in 1973, enacted the War Powers Resolution. The purpose of this law was to ensure that the president could no longer drag the US into a prolonged conflict without congressional permission. (more…)

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[This piece was originally published at the Meretz USA blog]

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear, as if it needed clarifying, that he is uninterested in finding peace with the Palestinians. He did this by issuing an ultimatum to Fatah and its leader, PA President Mahmoud Abbas: you can either reconcile with Hamas or make peace with Israel, not both.

More than once on my blog, I’ve been criticized by commenters for my view of Hamas. I see them as a reactionary religious-nationalist movement. They have no

Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khaled Meshal share an uncomfortable handshake

compunction about attacking civilians, are appropriately called terrorists, have a poor human rights record in Gaza (a score on which anyone who has read my work will know I have been at least as critical of the Israeli occupation record as well as the PA), and are legitimately mistrusted.

But Hamas is, like it or not, also a part of the Palestinian body politic. In the early 1980s, when Israel tacitly permitted the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to organize in the hope that it would provide a religious, but much less threatening, counterweight to the PLO, they surely did not have any idea what they were doing. Hamas grew out of that, and it is a regrettable development, in my view for both sides.

And, again like it or not, they control the Gaza Strip. All efforts to shake their rule there have failed, and if elections were held today among all Palestinians, all polls indicate they would have significant, albeit clearly minority, support. Put simply, the option of being able to reach a deal with the Palestinians without Hamas just does not exist.

And we can thank ourselves for that. In 2006, the United States insisted on Palestinian elections, and Hamas, as the main party in the List of Change and Reform, won the most seats, 74 of 132. Before the newly elected PA could form any sort of policy on anything, Israel and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russian Federation) instituted a regime of economic sanctions on it. These actions reverberated around the Arab world, sending the message that America supports democracy as long as it produces outcomes we approve of. (more…)

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