How Hillary Clinton Single-Handedly Declared War on Iran - Part 2
So, we're back to Kyl-Lieberman. I'd like to offer the Obama and Edwards campaigns some unsolicited advice: I honestly and genuinely appreciate your efforts to steer the usually insane foreign policy "debate" in the U.S. (between the Serious, Very Serious and Extremely Serious People) in a more progressive and sane direction, but would you please do that without using right-wing memes based on the theory of a Unitary Executive?
Here's what I mean. Sen. Obama's campaign has been making statements like this on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment (emphasis mine, throughout this post):
[O]nce again, Senator Clinton supported giving President Bush both the benefit of the doubt and a blank check on a critical foreign policy issue. Barack Obama just has a fundamentally different view.
They've also gone on the record with statements like this:
“Without a doubt,” Obama adviser Greg Craig said in a memo, “President Bush can cite that language as authorizing him to maintain and use U.S. troops in Iraq for the purpose of containing Iran, curtailing Iran’s influence in Iraq, and, if need be, to expand our troops’ activities beyond Iraq’s borders to pursue and attack Iranian forces.”
In the recent Democratic debate (see this video), Sen. Edwards included some good progressive messaging on foreign policy. He also evidently made a comment comparing Sen. Clinton's support for the non-binding Kyl-Lieberman resolution to the infamous 2002 Iraq bill that passed both Houses of Congress and was signed into Law by the President. His comment has been captured by Ben Smith at the Politico as follows:
Edwards closed with his best argument, and the sharpest of the evening so far: If President Bush invades Iran in six months, "Are we going to hear, 'If only I’d known then what I know now ... "
This is the continuation of a theme. Earlier in October, Edwards said the following in response to Sen. Clinton's support for Kyl-Lieberman, again suggesting that the resolution allows Bush to go to war against Iran:
“I learned a clear lesson from the lead up to the Iraq War in 2002: if you give this president an inch, he will take a mile – and launch a war,” Edwards said. “Sen. Clinton apparently learned a different lesson. Instead of blocking George Bush’s new march to war, Senator Clinton and others are enabling him once again."
Now, I think it is a fair criticism that voting in favor of Kyl-Lieberman may have the effect of aiding Bush's belligerence against Iran. However, just because Bush, a serial law-breaker, might use a misguided, non-binding, "Sense of the Senate" resolution (this was not a Bill that became Law; there was nothing that passed the House and got signed into Law by the President) that has no legal ramifications whatsoever, to attack Iran, it doesn't make this resolution a blank check or turn it into a Congressional justification to attack Iran. Just because Bush might falsely claim that this toothless resolution gives him the legal authority to invade Iran, doesn't mean that progressives should be claiming that it gives him that authority. What Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards are doing here - with this line of argument - is unfortunately advancing the destructive right-wing meme that the President of the United States can use stuff that has nothing to do with law as justification to do patently illegal things. According to this theory - which Sen. Clinton obviously disagrees with - if Sen. Obama becomes President and the Senate passes a legally toothless "Sense of the Senate" resolution against Country X, President Obama can bomb Country X freely because such a bombing would be considered Congressionally sanctioned. This is dangerous nonsense that no Democrat should ever be advancing.
It is perfectly reasonable to criticize Sen. Clinton for supporting Kyl-Lieberman because it may be counter-productive to the cause of stopping Iran from sponsoring terrorism or to the cause of making Iran halt its nuclear program or [fill in the blanks]. But, claiming that her support for this toothless resolution amounts to giving Bush a green light or blank check or justification to invade Iran is the kind of stuff I expected to read in the neocon Weakly Standard or Notional Review. This argument is so deeply wrong that even one of the worst neocon nutcases ever - Michael Ledeen - is made to look embarrasingly reasonable by comparison:
“It’s non-binding, so it has no policy implications, let alone legal implications,” said Michael A. Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “It’s posturing.”
In fact, the center-left blogosphere has spent years researching and showing how Bush’s alleged justifications for his patently illegal activities didn’t hold up under the law. I remember a time when there were numerous blog posts or diaries competing to prove how a particular law passed by Congress did not justify Bush’s actions even though Bush and his supporters claimed it did. Fast forward to 2007. Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards, while intending to advance a progressive foreign policy vision, are unfortunately mainstreaming the fraudulent right-wing meme that the President can use resolutions without binding or legal authority as a justification or “blank check” to invade other countries! (Not to mention, some of their eager supporters, who I am reasonably sure were helping debunk these kinds of claims when George Bush or his supporters were making them, are unfortunately busy trying to - wrongly - establish how Sen. Clinton's vote allows Bush to go to war. This is exactly the kind of stuff that George Bush and the neocons have been dying to hear).
Here's what I do know. Both Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards have been communicating some key progressive values on foreign policy and I think they will both make good Presidents. I also don't think that they believe a U.S. President can invade another country using this kind of non-existent justification. However, if they don't believe this, they should make it loud and clear that they don't. If not, reasonable people will be forced to ask whether they believe in the theory of a Unitary Executive and why they are providing support for President Bush's innate tendency to misuse executive power to commit illegal acts using non-existent justifications. If Sen. Clinton is to be blamed for fueling Bush's belligerence on Iran, then it is only fair to say that Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards may end up being blamed for fueling Bush's belligerence as an out-of-control, law-breaking Executive.
P.S. In my next post I will try to answer why I think Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards have forced themselves into this line of argument. A quick answer: a look at their foreign policy record as Senators and their foreign policy vision suggests that the fundamental differences between them and Sen. Clinton are, in most cases, not exactly earth-shattering. I give credit to Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards for saying things of late that generally sound more progressive, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of foreign policy I have a hard time concluding that they are dramatically different from Sen. Clinton. More on this in my next post.