The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Imperial Presidency and Eterna-War

Constitutionally, only Congress can declare war. Congress has given up that power, and continues to affirm that they have given up their war powers.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday rejected a Democratic proposal to require congressional approval before the US can take military action against Iran.

Machiavelli has a dictum, “Good laws cannot save bad people; and good people can make bad laws work.”

The US constitution, despite American worship, is a flawed document. But it’s not its flaws that matter, because where it has virtues, such as putting war-powers in the hands of Congress and not the Presidency, Congress has refused to embrace it.

Likewise, as Pelosi twists in the wind, and is taunted by Barr when he refuses Congress’s subpoenas, there is a Congressional remedy: The Sergeant-at-Arms can arrest Barr. It would be constitutionally valid to do so. (And Congress runs DC, and DC has plenty of jails, so yes, there is somewhere to put him.)

The issue is that Congress members and leadership don’t want to use their power. They want an Imperial President. They want war, without the responsibility for it.

The Founders assumed that Congress members would want power and would protect their powers–they didn’t anticipate this debilitating weakness, this cowardice, on the part of Congress.

Bad people can’t even make good laws work.

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  1. bruce wilder

    That members of Congress want office and the kind of celebrity that comes with office, but do not want power and do not know how to wield power is a general problem that extends far beyond the problem of the Imperial Presidency.
    It is rooted in how politics evolved after the New Deal politics of stalemated conflict between interest groups ran out steam in the 1970’s.
    For a Member of Congress to have power and the discretion to use it, under the old system, it was only necessary to occupy a node between interest groups and to play one against another. That is no longer possible for most Representatives. Bernie Sanders has been able to be an idealist, because his small rural state leaves him to decide his own course on almost every issue (except gun rights, an exception that serves to prove my point).

  2. atcooper

    This one is one I harp on constantly in my personal relationships, and I’m convinced it’s one of the key failures that leads to all kinds of other abuses. Domestic surveillance and a militarized police force would not exist if not for the imperialist impulse.

  3. Hugh

    In the US, we have a government owned by the rich and run by the elites. There is nothing democratic or representative about it. Voter suppression is normal. Money is free speech, but money isn’t free. So the rich have essentially all the “free” speech. The House of Representatives is riven with gerrymandering. The Senate is far worse. 9 states have a majority of the country’s population, but only 18 Senators. So less than half the country gets the other 82 Senators. At the same time, the 26 states with the fewest people (that is 52 Senators or a Senate majority) contain only 17.5% of the population. And then there is the President and the electoral college.

    All this describes a political system that is profoundly stacked against the many. Parts of this are written into the Constitution. Parts, like the further rigging of an already rigged system, the politicization of the judiciary, and the failure of the Congress, or the President for that matter, to fulfill their duties, responsibilities, and offices, simply signal the further degeneration of an already degenerate system.

  4. bruce wilder

    we ought to try to be realistic in our standards for assessing how democratic political processes or governance is, as well as analytic about what structures make with the process or governance undemocratic.

    US politics is not at all responsive to the concerns or interests of the vast majority. That I take to be a fact.

    Does this unresponsiveness have much to do with gerrymandering or the composition of the U.S. Senate?

    The weight the Senate gives to relatively rural areas is not very democratic, but does it have anything to do with domination by giant business corporations?

    I would suggest that the configuration of the political process — campaign donations fed thru expert manipulators of opinion via corporate media to a passive, disorganized and ill-informed electorate — that configuration might be more apposite.

  5. Hugh

    The many are not disenfranchised or their franchise devalued by accident. Rural states have fewer people in them. So it is easier, cheaper, and far more effective to manipulate their electorates. How many Senators does Wyoming (pop. 577,000) get? Two. How many does California (pop. 39.5 million) get? Two. Where is it easier to buy a few votes, throw out a few dogwhistles? Wyoming, hands down. But it does not stop there. Throw in some combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression, big money from the rich into this mix and you can stifle the will of the many even in bigger states like Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and Florida.

  6. Phil Martin

    To speak to the point of the post, the excuse most Congressional Reps and Senators would give is that the original Authorization to Use Military Force, passed three days after the 9/11 attacks, is still in force. That\’s true. That particular set of legislators gave a blank check to George W. Bush to use the military to pursue a \”war on terror.\” Subsequent Executives have assumed the same power–there is no time limit in the legislation, nor geographical limitation. All the Executive has to do, I would suppose, is declare that terrorism exists in country x and WHAMMO!

    This is a bad law in the hands of bad people.

    Most dismaying is that those who profess to love the Constitution are mostly silent on this issue, Rand Paul being the exception (Kudos to him!).

    Constitutional conservatism was a hallmark of the Tea Party and the Republican party at the beginning of the decade. What happened? Oh, yeah. Hail Trump.

  7. nihil obstet

    A serious problem with money in politics is that, as I understand it, politicians spend 4 to 6 hours a day on the phone calling donors and potential donors. Then they attend fundraising events several evenings a week. They don’t have the time to do the job they were elected to do. They simply front for hearings where they read questions written by staff members and legislation written by lobbyists. They are screamingly ignorant of anything that doesn’t lead in the headlines or on the cable news stations. That’s not a job that many serious people are going to go for.

    This all warps a characteristic necessary for a politician — the ability to attract the support of other people. That’s not one-sided. You can’t create a feeling of agreement day after day with people you don’t share ideas, goals, thoughts with. So you become more and more like the people whose main attraction to you is their money. You share the ideas, goals, and thoughts with the rich. Politicians in our system aren’t just bought. They’re converted.

    I’m increasingly coming to believe that where hierarchy is absolutely necessary, the assignment to ranks within the hierarchy should be made by lot.

  8. ponderer

    The deep state wants an imperial presidency. The MIC also wants it. Business wants it, it suites their corporate model. Therefore, we have it. Congress for the most part just rides their gravy train as long as they can. They don’t want to be forced to make the decisions that will derail the gravy train. The voters are content to argue over fringe issues but they might take notice if 10k body bags started coming back from overseas.

    We’re long past rule of law, equality under the law, or any fairness in our everyday lives. There are only a handful of people who actually care about the Constitution and fewer who understand it. I agree with Ian on bad people producing bad outcomes no matter the laws. I think its because we don’t care about laws, and the laws are designed to encourage that.

    If the States didn’t exist would we be in the same dynamic of a majority not being represented? Of course. The same people elected Hillary, Pelosi, Obama, and all the other grifters.

  9. MojaveWolf

    Agreed on all of the above.

    Let’s hope the Democrats have some sense, and nominate Bernie or even better for anti-war purposes Tulsi, and that in the meantime Trump, who has thus far managed to finesse himself out of being forced into invasions he doesn’t really want better than some other past presidents (see: supposedly Obama/Libya and Obama all the others Obama did reluctantly), manages to veer off actually starting a war w/either Iran or Venezuela (or anyone else!) in the meantime.

    I loathe Trump, but he’s done a better job keeping us out of pointless warfare than anyone else in a long time, and I hope he manages to continue.

  10. Hugh

    Trump has backed the stiflingly repressive dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and MBS’ genocide in Yemen. He is the biggest supporter of the Israeli fascist Netanyahu and Israel’s murderous apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank. He unilaterally dumped a good nuclear treaty with Iran trashing American credibility for essentially nothing and he continues to saber rattle that could lead us to stumble into a pointless war with Iran, something that both the Israelis and Saudis hope for and are not above trying to push a gullible sap like Trump into. He has completely blown nuclear negotiations with North Korea putting at risk the lives of millions of Americans, South Koreans, and Japanese. And with a couple of exceptions he has gotten out the kneepads and sucked up to every dictator and strongman on the planet. In no particular order, Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Putin in Russia, Kim Jung Un in North Korea, Mohammed bin Salman in the KSA, al Sisi in Egypt, and Netanyahu in Israel.

    In Yemen alone, Trump’s actions have led to the death of thousands in Yemen and put at risk millions. His legitimizing of dictators across the globe means that hundreds of millions will live in fear and misery under brutal, repressive regimes.

    And the US still has troops in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.

    Meanwhile Trump has gone far in undermining our traditional alliances, especially NATO.

    So when I hear that Trump hasn’t gotten us into a war, I don’t know what that means. He has continued wars, he has expanded others, he has laid the groundwork for a whole slew of new ones. He has strengthened our enemies and weakened our friends. And made the world far less safe and secure. I don’t see how this kind of record can be defended or mitigated.

  11. Ché Pasa

    We’re long past the point where elections might significantly change things — if there truly ever was such a point. Hugh and others describe well the inherent nature of our government(s) to serve and to follow the will of a relative handful of rich and powerful individuals who are only prevented from their ultimate goals by the internal factionalism of their class and a modest brake on their actions by experts and servitors, the so-called “10%”.

    That’s where we are. Elections don’t change the dynamic. To the extent they change anything, they change (some of) the players at the top. And they might change the speed with which we are hurtling into the abyss — or into Paradise. For despite all, there is something nearly Utopian about the US ideal — if not the practice.

    Nixon was accused of being an Imperial President, but so was McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt and Polk and Taylor and Andrew Jackson. So was Adams and Jefferson, etc. And it was true.

    We can find the characteristics of an imperial presidency embedded in the founding documents of the Nation, documents which also set up the national path to empire. Eterna-War is part and parcel of the imperial path. There are always enemies, always resistance to be crushed, always something to be gained from more conquest. Always. So it goes. It never stops, and who sits in the Oval Office ultimately matters to the factional players on top much more than it should matter to the Rabble.

    A key insight may be that those factional players on top are not our friends and don’t have the interests of We, the People at heart. They will respond to what they fear, but they don’t fear us.

    One day they might. But that day hasn’t come.

  12. rangoon78

    Mandos? The bile rises in my throat when is see his/her byline
    Better to pass a bad bill than no bill? DECEMBER 18 2009Ian Welsh:
    Mandos says yes, at his place- “A bad bill has a chance of defeating at least one pernicious meme: that no Congress or administration can alter US health care delivery systems, which are wholly broken.”

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