April 18, 2012

Next Stop, Tehran

I found this exchange last month between Jeff Sessions, Republican Senator from the great state of Alabama, and Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, rather telling and instructive on the state of unconstitutional procedures currently in vogue in the U.S. of A.  I don't recall any news coverage of the colloquy, of course; it must have happened around the time that George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin were dominating the airwaves, or maybe Kim Kardashian had a butt implant go all wrong.

Whatever the reason:  Jeff Sessions, with his slightly inbred look and Yoda ears, presents something of a quandary for me.  He's a former district attorney and is actually pretty good at asking questions, a skill not usually found in serving members of Congress.  Plus, I noticed during the Alberto Gonzales scandal that he was actually, dare I say it?, pretty principled when it came to picking holes in Alberto's obviously perjured testimony.  He clearly did not like the politics that controlled hiring and firing at the Justice Department during the Bush/Rove regime, and Sessions was probably as instrumental as anyone in driving Gonzales from office in 2007.  Of course, as a Republican he is required to participate in many of the standard lunatic orthodoxies of the GOP, but that's to be expected.

Panetta, on the other hand, has always seemed to me the Democrats' version of Dick Cheney.  A reliable functionary and apparatchik who can be counted on to carry out the policy of any president he serves, and in fact Panetta has held many of the same jobs which Cheney held: Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, a member of Congress, etc.  Like Cheney, he seems more industrious and can-do than particularly bright or creative.  As you know, I also believe that Panetta got his start playing the pharmacist on the old "Dobie Gillis" series, although I cannot find this on Panetta's Wikipedia entry.

The phrase "Kabuki Theater" gets overused in our cliche-ridden MediaWorld, but this hearing might be aptly described in just such terms.  The question is whether Sessions is in on the fix, or was genuinely "breathless" over the unconstitutionality of Panetta's described approach to war authorization.  As a legal matter, there isn't much to talk about.  Panetta is talking absolute nonsense.  There is no "international" authority for a president to take the country to war, so it doesn't matter what NATO says or wants, and it doesn't matter whether our "international partners" want our help.  These considerations (international cooperation, defense of an ally) might be motivating factors, but the constitutional law remains that only Congress has (a) the authority to declare war, or (b) authorize the use of military force under the War Powers Act of 973, which is Congress's way of sidestepping its obligations to commit the country to war (a sidestepping dance it has performed since 1941, ridiculously enough).

Sessions obviously knows the law, and he reminds the members of the panel (which included Panetta and some top military brass) that they know it, too.  Nevertheless, it is fascinating to watch Panetta refuse to meet Sessions eye-to-eye, and to remain obtuse and opaque in his answers to very clear, well-posed questions.  Panetta does not give an inch, continuing to repeat his message-control mantra that the president has the unilateral right to protect and defend this country, and that "international" considerations guided the president's response in some relevant but not clearly-defined way.

The hearing nominally was supposed to concern Syria, and whether President Obama was going to go off on his own again, as he did in Libya, seeking neither a declaration of war under Article I of the Constitution (obviously, no president ever does that anymore) nor an authorization from Congress, which Bush at least did with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think, however, that this hearing, and Panetta's canned, robotic resposes, were really about Iran.  A decision has been made by the Obama Administration to attack Iran with its "international partner" Israel and maybe members of the Arab League (such as Saudi Arabia, who do not like the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran, to say the least), and Congress is going to find out about it when the world at large finds out about it.  If the hearing were really about Syria, Panetta would not need to dig in so deeply.  Enforcing a no-fly zone or running bombing runs, as in Libya, is no big deal to Congress, and they've already demonstrated they're completely asleep at the switch and will demand no accountability from Obama for his violation of his oath of office.  That sort of legal nicety is not even talked about anymore, let alone enforced.

But Iran?  That's the Big Persian Enchilada, and it's a hole card Obama wants to keep face down in the event he needs an October Surprise to get him over the hump against Romney  Remember that Bush was reelected in 2004 with a real majority (as opposed to 2000) even though by that point the American electorate knew the war in Iraq had been launched on false pretenses.  Just the fact of being at war probably worked greatly in Bush's favor, a fact obviously not lost on Obama.  And yes, the American electorate is that stupid. 

So no contradictory testimony from Panetta was going to be recorded at this hearing, try as Sessions might to make sense of what he was hearing.  The law is an ass, as Charles Dickens wrote.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud7:22 AM

    I see a lot of this as a push to legitimize extra-US legal authority for doing this or that. To me this is evidence that many in positions of power want yield more power to the international community. Knowing what is evident about human nature, bad idea.