And, if so, where can I buy a truckload of them?
Hey, guess who’s running around nowadays banging the drum calling for limiting presidential power and prerogatives? Some lilly-livered liberal wimp? Nope. Some weak-kneed hate-America terrorist-sympathizer? Nein, dummkopf. How about some bleeding-heart card-carrying ACLU-type litigating lawyer for depraved criminals? Sorry, that’s a negative, good buddy.
Turns out, of all people, it’s two of the most hard-core advocates for executive authority who ever served the most anti-Constitutional administration in all of American history. Remember John Bolton and John Yoo? Would you believe that they’re all of a sudden enormously concerned about the prospect of overweening presidential power?
Yeah, that’s right. Obama isn’t even president yet, and they have already worked themselves into a tizzy about how “the new president and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, led by the legal academics in whose circles they have long traveled” might be “binding down American power and interests in a dense web of treaties and international bureaucracies”.
Ooooooohh, golly. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Fellow travelers, and all! International bureaucrats restricting American interests. Yikes. Does that mean like some nefarious plot by Ban Ki-moon to limit Citigroup’s total freedom to exploit Latin American countries with predatory loans? Does that mean that some French guy in a suit will actually make us share the use of the oceans with the rest of the world?
Dang, that sounds worse than anything! Worse even than – and I’ll just arbitrarily choose a couple of examples here – say, torture or invasion or war.
Which provides quite a fine and convenient segue, as a matter of fact, to a short reminder of who these two characters are. Bolton is the lovely steroid-laced bull who was sent by George Bush to the UN to remind the rest of the world precisely what the United States thinks of it (hint: it’s kinda like what Dick Cheney thought of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, that day he ran into him on the floor of the Senate and recommended to Leahy that he perform an unnatural and rather improbable sexual maneuver without a partner). Bolton is so radical, he has spent the last couple of years criticizing the Bush administration for being a bunch of pansies. They only invaded two countries in eight years! What kind of superpower worth its name is that weak-kneed?!
Yoo, on the other hand, is a legal ‘scholar’ who made a name for himself by authoring all the memos that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rumsfeld and that nice Mr. Cheney told him to write, even if they did authorize torture and declare that the Geneva Conventions on the rules of war were “quaint” and “obsolete”. He basically argued that you could smash people to within just about an inch of their lives, and it still wouldn’t meet the definition of torture. I mean, true, it would hurt and all, but it wouldn’t legally qualify as torture. According to John Yoo, that is.
And, so, of course, the Bush administration spent eight years doing whatever it felt like doing, with less than zero interest in respecting any restraints on executive power, whether those emanated from international law, other branches of government, the Constitution, or Western traditions of democracy and liberty dating back in some cases all the way to Magna Carta. Remember signing statements? Scoffed-at subpoenas and Congressional oversight? Telling courts they lacked jurisdiction? Claiming the power to lock up any American at any time for any reason without any means of redress whenever the president felt like it? Trashing international law and subverting its institutions at every turn?
That was so yesterday! Today, on the other hand, what this country really needs to fear is an excess of presidential power so grave that it threatens the very foundation of our constitutional republic! It’s amazing how fast that changed!
And it’s amazing what prompted these two great defenders of democracy and republicanism to publish their warning salvo as a big fat New York Times op-ed. It was their fear that the Congress would be left out of what they claim is its crucial traditional role in sharing power with the president on making agreements with other countries. Okay, well, actually it’s not even really Congress where their concern lies, but with the Senate. And, um, actually it’s not even quite the Senate they seek to protect, but rather a super-minority of one-third of the Senate. Hmm... Interesting that this should all of a sudden now become so crucial in order to save Lincoln’s last best hope for mankind.
As Bolton and Yoo point out, presidents may sign executive agreements with other countries, and such a process allows for no congressional involvement whatsoever. Presidents may also sign treaties that are then submitted to majority vote in both the House and Senate (known as Congressional-executive agreements), as a second form of international agreement process. Or, the president may go the third and most difficult route, which is to have a two-thirds super-majority in the Senate ratify the treaty. Throughout history, presidents have followed all three paths, as they saw fit. In fact, as the authors themselves point out, such big-time agreements as the Bretton Woods pact, the GATT treaty, and the NAFTA treaty – three of the most consequential multilateral agreements of the post-war period – all became American law via the less demanding second route.
But now, Mssrs. Bolton and Yoo are gravely concerned that the new president will do something really nefarious, like force the United States to be even remotely responsible on global warming issues, or subject American citizens to the rule of international law concerning war crimes or genocide. You know, abhorrent impingements on American sovereignty that would allow “international bureaucrats” to tell Americans what to do. That’s the difference, you see. Bretton Woods, GATT and NAFTA were, of course, mere economic agreements. They didn’t threaten American liberties, even if those liberties might be the freedom to commit planetary suicide, or the freedom to avoid prosecution for mass murder.
Or worse. Bolton and Yoo are also especially worried that the new president might pull a fast one and get the land mine ban treaty or the law of the sea treaty enacted by calling for a congressional vote! And winning majorities in both houses! I mean how sneaky is that?! How anti-democratic?! Next thing you know, he’ll be calling for a plebiscite to decide these issues, in order to complete his evil plan to shut out the public entirely from any say in the running of their government. Or, more accurately, in the running of King Barack I’s government!
I just want to say that I am grateful indeed for the efforts of these two fine gentlemen to warn us against the dangers of international law, and especially against the hazards associated with overbearing presidential power. I’m sure they’re as upset as I am that so many have been so silent about these issues for so long. Like the last eight years, for example.