On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. In response, the United States declared war on Bin Laden. This week, after ten long years: We got ’em. Al-Qaeda’s top terrorist is dead, the nation rejoices, and the families of the victims of 9/11 are finally getting some much needed closure.
So, hopefully, is America. For the last decade, virtually our entire Middle Eastern policy revolved around 9/11. This was true for both critics and champions of American foreign policy. If war opponents dared to ask what the Iraq War had to do with Osama or Al-Qaeda, war proponents would simply reply, “Do you remember 9/11?” In the same year we invaded Iraq, country singer Darryl Worley’s 2003 hit song “Have You Forgotten” expressed this sentiment: “Some say this country’s just out looking for a fight, well, after 9/11 man I’d have to say that’s right… You say we shouldn’t worry ’bout bin Laden… Have you forgotten?”
Though few Americans were saying they weren’t worried “’bout bin Laden” after 9/11, the extent to which US foreign policy was actually in pursuit of Al-Qaeda and its leader was hotly contested. The decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001 to rout the Taliban, for example, was popular with Americans because it seemed logical, and not surprisingly, it also received international support. The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was initially popular with Americans but received very little international support, primarily because it was not logical precisely because it didn’t seem related to 9/11. A decade later, the US occupation in both countries is not popular internationally, is opposed by both countries’ governments and citizens, and both wars are unpopular with the American people precisely because they no longer make any sense.
What does any of this have to do, today, with 9/11? Are these wars unpopular because America has forgotten 9/11—or because Americans fail to see what they have to do with 9/11?
Government officials now say there are less than 100 Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan where we have 100,000 troops. We now know Saddam Hussein had nothing to with Bin Laden and yet 50,000 troops remain in Iraq. Prominent hawks like Sen. John McCain are calling for more intervention in Libya and relatively new hawks like Sen. Marco Rubio want to see stronger U.S. action in Syria. Both senators also believe we should stay in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely. None of this has anything to do with fighting Al-Qaeda.
Have McCain, Rubio and their Republican ilk forgotten 9/11? Have the Democratic hawks who agree with them forgotten 9/11? Republicans said “Bush kept us safe.” This week did Obama “keep us safe?” Does this partisan assertion even make sense?
The intentionally vague rhetoric of the War on Terror has often contradicted the logistical realities of any practical war we might wage against actual terrorists. For example, after 9/11 Texas Congressman Ron Paul introduced legislation resurrecting the constitutionally-based policy of “Marque and Reprisal” in which Congress could authorize small, covert forces to go after Al-Qaeda leaders and members directly. Paul argued that full scale wars of invasion and occupation would not and could not be effective against a group like Al-Qaeda and would only incite greater hatred against the US. Paul’s critics said he was being naïve in his suggestion and in his opposition to larger military action.
Yet bin Laden was killed using precisely the sort of small military contingency Paul said would be most effective in the wake of 9/11. Ironically, government officials now admit they fear Al-Qaeda might retaliate over bin Laden’s death. But what has inspired more terrorists to take up arms against the U.S.—thousands of civilian casualties and enduring resentment due to two long wars of occupation? Or the recent death of bin Laden? Should we be more worried about retaliation from the relatively small Al-Qaeda, or an entire region of Muslims who’ve become more sympathetic to radical jihad due mostly to our constant military involvement in their countries?
There is a “war on women,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, referring to Republican plans to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood during last week’s budget showdown.
Obviously when looking for things to cut out of federal spending in the name of reducing the deficit, both Republicans and Democrats will look first to defund the parts of big government that satisfy their constituencies the most. Democrat leader Pelosi has rightly noted that most Republicans are unwilling to cut defense spending, something that incurs far more debt than government funded women’s health services. Said Pelosi last year: “I think we have to subject every federal dollar to the very harshest scrutiny… If there is going to a spending freeze, it should be across the board. That is to say, we all want a strong national defense, and we want to fund it in an appropriate way… if we have to cut spending, we should subject every dollar to that same scrutiny.”
Predictably, many Republicans have characterized such sentiments by Democrats as a “war on the military” in the same way Democrats now say the Republicans are waging war on women, seniors, minorities, teachers, transsexuals, tarantulas, and so on. But Pelosi is essentially (if hypocritically) right—we do have to “subject every dollar to that same scrutiny” if we are going to substantively cut spending. Ostensibly, both sides tried to do this last week. Actually, neither side did a damn thing.
Facing a $1.5 trillion dollar deficit last week, the Democrats came up with $4 billion in cuts. The Republicans were able to take that measly number up to $38 billion, which was the final compromise on both sides, and has been hailed as a “Republican victory.” A headline ran at CNSNews.com over the weekend that the “Debt Jumped $54.1 Billion in 8 Days Preceding Boehner-Obama Deal to Cut $38.5 Billion for Rest of Year” which means the ballyhooed $38 billion in cuts was completely negated in the week before the budget battle. It should be noted that the entire national debt now stands at $14 trillion and counting. Republicans laughed at Democrats initial $4 billion cut proposal, and rightly so. But realistically, Republicans’ $38 billion compromise isn’t any better.
Logically, any effort to cut government spending necessarily requires reexamining, reassessing and restructuring what government does. Naturally, Democrats want government to do what Democrats have always loved government doing (welfare and domestic socialism) and Republicans want government to do what Republicans have always loved government doing (warfare and foreign socialism). When Republicans go after Democrat-adored spending, it becomes a “war on women” and other hyperbolic nonsense. When Democrats go after Republican adored-spending, it becomes a “war on the military,” and other hyperbolic nonsense.
There are those of us, a small minority, who still have the quaint notion that the federal government should only do what it has the authority to do via Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. We believe in private charity but not public dependency and proper defense but not policing the world. This is the “extreme” position, or so we are told. Then there is the dominant and more popular view that the government can basically do anything it likes and no matter how much it costs, so long as it is in the name of some greater “good,” which is always determined, without any constitutional restraint, by whichever party happens to be in control in Washington, DC during any given legislative year. This is the mainstream and sensible position, we are told.
But we seem to have reached a point in our politics where enough Americans are now willing to recognize the unsustainable insanity of the mainstream position. This was reflected not only by the success of so many Tea Party candidates during the midterm election, a trend that will likely continue in 2012, but the many polls that show that Americans from across the political spectrum now consider our debt crisis the greatest threat to national security. Despite this trend, most in both parties still seem wholly unwilling to address spending and the debt in any substantive way. And the “extreme” few, who are willing, can currently only be found in the Republican Party.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” plan has been touted by some conservatives as a step in the right direction. Ryan’s proposal to save $6 trillion over a decade sounds like a big cut. It’s not. According to Heartland Institute tax and budget policy analyst Steve Stanek: “Ryan’s plan is not cutting from anything that’s real. A 10-year budget is craziness. It just has too many variables.” Stanek also noted that Ryan’s plan wouldn’t actually reduce the debt because it simply decreases the rise in spending, which is not an actual cut. Under Ryan’s plan the debt would increase from $14 trillion to $23.1 trillion in ten years. Still, one liberal blogger Tweeted of the congressman’s ineffective plan: “Paul Ryan’s path to prosperity is paved with the bones of the poor and elderly.”
A critic of the lack of urgency in Ryan’s plan, Sen. Rand Paul has proposed $500 billion in cuts this year alone. Paul calls this a “modest” proposal that only addresses one third of a $1.5 trillion deficit, and says it is a mere “first step toward ending our fiscal crisis.” Paul was able to arrive at such a large, albeit still modest number, by including cuts that both Democrats and Republicans don’t like. Paul’s only co-sponsors have been Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, both of whom disagree with some of Paul’s defense cuts, but understand the need, as Pelosi once advised, to “subject every dollar to the same scrutiny.”
When Florida pastor Terry Jones decided to “send a message” to Muslims by burning a Koran last week, it incited outrage and violence throughout the Arab world. American leaders rightly responded by condemning the senseless and dangerous act. Yet in the end, and despite the pastor’s obvious and irresponsible recklessness, Jones used his free speech and political leaders used theirs. Such is the nature of free expression in a free society.
But one politician’s condemnation of Jones contained a suggested remedy far more dangerous to American freedom than burning the Koran. Said Sen. Lindsey Graham on CBS’ Face the Nation:
Yeah, I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.
While, almost amusingly, Sen. Graham doesn’t deny that destroying a Koran incites Muslim hatred, he does deny that the destruction to persons and property necessary in any war—via the United States military—does any such thing. For all the talk of radical Islamists simply hating us for our “freedoms,” a narrative Graham has repeated countless times, few who tout this line can explain why, historically, the US had virtually no fear of Islamic terrorists until we began heavily intervening in the Arab world. Was Islam perhaps more enlightened or modern in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s than it is today? Or has our foreign policy in the Middle East changed drastically since that time?
No less an authority than the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer notes: “On no other foreign policy issue since the Cold War’s end has the truth been so easy to establish on the basis of hard facts but so hard for Americans to see … that Muslim hatred is motivated by U.S. interventionism more than any other factor.”
But politicians like Graham not only refuse to see how our current foreign policy actually endangers us more than it protects us—he and his pro-war ilk constantly promote more of it. When Iraqi government officials began saying they wanted the US out of their country as soon as possible, 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain declared that America might remain in that country for “100 years” if necessary, with an approving Graham by his side. When Afghanistan’s government began asking for the US to withdraw as soon as possible, Graham said America might need to remain in that country in perpetuity. Now that President Obama has started a third Middle Eastern war in Libya, most Republicans either oppose or are highly skeptical of this military action. Not Graham. Even reports that the Libyan rebels might be working with Al-Qaeda don’t seem to faze the Senator one bit in his support for Obama’s new war.
Still, for Graham, support for a hyper-interventionist foreign policy—even if it means indirectly helping Al-Qaeda per the Libyan rebels—is non-negotiable. What is negotiable are Americans’ historic and constitutional freedoms. James Madison once wrote that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war” and it’s no coincidence that Graham has little problem with diminishing freedom in the name of perpetual war.
But Graham has always had an authoritarian streak. Remember that in addition to his recent suggestion that we might need to limit free speech, Graham has also been one of the most vocal champions of anti-constitutional measures like “REAL ID,” in which the federal government could keep better tabs on American citizens. Of course Graham was also a strong proponent of the horribly misnamed Patriot Act, which gives the federal government the power to treat Americans as something less than citizens. Destroying Korans is unquestionably stupid. So is destroying the Constitution.
Here's my 3/31/11 interview on Freedom Watch on FOX Business with Judge Andrew Napolitano about Libya, the Tea Party and President Obama's Bush-style foreign policy.
When Obama decided to go to war with Libya some Capitol Hill leaders in both parties decided to question whether the President had the authority to do so. When George W. Bush was president Obama once posed the same question, stating in 2007: “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.”
The Constitution clearly states that only Congress can declare war and it falls upon the Executive branch to direct that war once declared. The notion that the Commander in Chief, a title designated to the President by the Constitution, can command military action freely without any checks on his power negates not only the letter of our nation’s founding charter but betrays the very nature of American government. In fact, the Founders thought it particularly dangerous to give the President such power, a point James Madison reiterated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1798: “The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature.”
Nationally syndicated radio host and best-selling author Mark Levin disagrees with Madison. When members of Congress began to question the President’s authority to wage war without their consent in the wake of Libya bombings, Levin said on his radio program: “I don’t believe in politicizing the Constitution. I believe the Constitution is the rock of this society. So all this talk about the attacks on Libya are unconstitutional because we don’t have a declaration of war, that’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Levin defended his position by saying that not every military action is necessarily full-blown war and said that there are numerous examples of American presidents operating outside of the Constitutional provisions concerning warfare. In his recent column “The Phony Arguments for Presidential War Powers” bestselling author Thomas Woods answers Levin’s latter justification:
This argument, like so much propaganda, originated with the U.S. government itself. At the time of the Korean War, a number of congressmen contended that ‘history will show that on more than 100 occasions in the life of this Republic the President as Commander in Chief has ordered the fleet or the troops to do certain things which involved the risk of war’ without the consent of Congress. In 1966, in defense of the Vietnam War, the State Department adopted a similar line… the great presidential scholar Edward S. Corwin pointed out that (with the exception of John Adams’ quasi war with France in which he did indeed consult Congress, despite portrayals to the contrary) this lengthy list of alleged precedents consisted mainly of ‘fights with pirates, landings of small naval contingents on barbarous or semi-barbarous coasts, the dispatch of small bodies of troops to chase bandits or cattle rustlers across the Mexican border, and the like.’ To support their position, therefore, the neoconservatives and their left-liberal clones are counting chases of cattle rustlers as examples of presidential warmaking, and as precedents for sending millions of Americans into war with foreign governments on the other side of the globe.
Woods is correct about the relative insignificance of these examples but there is also a larger point to be made about those who argue toward this end—particularly the arguments of right-wingers like Levin who push a neoconservative, hyper-interventionist foreign policy, while downplaying or patently ignoring the plain language of the Constitution that would impede this agenda.
Consider when then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked by a reporter what part of the Constitution gave Congress the right to mandate nationalized healthcare, she simply replied “Are you serious? Are you serious?” The reporter replied that he was indeed serious and Pelosi simply ignored the question. When asked about it again later, a Pelosi spokesman reiterated that “It was not a serious question.” Pelosi’s view of the insignificance of the Constitution isn’t unusual and was also repeated by Congressman James Clyburn on FOX Business. When asked by “Freedom Watch” host Judge Andrew Napolitano what gave Congress the Constitutional authority to administer healthcare, Clyburn admitted: “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.”
Clyburn deserves credit for his honesty. The US Constitution is where each branch of our government is supposed to derive 100% of its authority, but today’s federal government has operated outside its legal bounds for so long that Constitutional questions are often considered an afterthought, if they are even considered at all.
Liberals often argue that the modern world demands government action that could not be foreseen by the Founders, and might even cite the lack of Constitutional authority to enact government programs such as Social Security or Medicare as justification for a program like Obamacare. Liberals’ typical rationale for the legitimacy of such programs is the implementation and political acceptance of older, similar government programs. But their justification is historical precedent, not legal authority. Indeed, the federal government has operated in this virtually lawless manner for so long that liberals find it quaint or “not serious” when anyone dares challenge them on legitimate constitutional grounds.
This is similar to the argument of conservatives like Levin in their defense of presidents who wield extra-constitutional powers when waging war. Levin might cite the Korean War or Vietnam as examples of such executive power, in much the same way liberals cite Social Security or Medicare to defend Obamacare. The actual constitutionality of each takes a backseat to the ideologies being promoted, whether the interventionist domestic government welfare state so many Democrats’ desire or the interventionist foreign warfare state endorsed by so many Republicans.
Despite the Constitution stating explicitly that President Obama is unlawful in ordering a strike on Libya without consulting Congress, Levin finds this contention “Absolutely ridiculous,” in the same way Pelosi asks “Are you serious?” of anyone who dares challenge Obamacare’s constitutionality. No doubt, both Levin and Pelosi rhetorically claim that they “support the Constitution,” but their personal, mostly imaginary constitutions are simply projections of what each respective liberal and neoconservative ideologue would like them to be, not necessarily what the Founders actually wrote and ratified.