Executive war powers up under Obama



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Executive war powers up under Obama


Conor Friedersdorf, “Obama Acts Like He Doesn't Know He's an Executive-Power Extremist,” The Atlantic, 9/12/2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/obama-acts-like-he-doesnt-know-hes-an-executive-power-extremist/279583/

What a fascinating paragraph! Even as Obama implies that he is a circumspect steward of constitutional democracy, he asserts that even absent "a direct or imminent threat," he has absolute power to wage war without congressional support, the Constitution and the opinions of the demos be damned. If the passage ended there it would be staggering in its internal tension. As Jack Goldsmith explained in detail, intervening in Syria without congressional sign-off would "push presidential war unilateralism beyond where it has gone before." Asserting that power without using it is still an extreme position to take. Obama goes a delusion farther. Ostensibly because he hasn't yet intervened, even though he repeatedly and needlessly asserts his right to do so unilaterally, he casts himself as moving away from unilateralism and toward consulting Congress. The benefits are "especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president," he notes, "while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force." The grammer is priceless. Who "put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president"? In Obama's telling, "a decade" put the executive power there. The absence of a human subject in the sentence isn't hard to figure out. For all President George W. Bush's faults, he sought and received majority support for the Patriot Act, the September 2001 AUMF, the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq. Obama's expansion of the drone war and his illegal war-making in Libya didn't turn out as bad as Iraq, so it's hard to see him as a worse president, but Obama has done more than Bush to expand the war-making power of the White House. As for "sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force," it's Obama who went into Libya despite the fact that a House vote to approve U.S. involvement was brought to the floor and voted down. Yet Obama complains about these trends as if someone other than Obama is responsible for them, and as if he has been and remains powerless to do more to reverse them. When Obama asked Congress to vote in Syria, no one forced him to insist that he had the power to intervene militarily even if a legislative vote declared otherwise. No one forced him to defend the extreme position that the presidential war power is so sweeping that it includes waging wars of choice rejected by Congress that don't involve any direct or imminent threat to the United States. He went out of his way to defend that maximal precedent, even as gave us the impression that he was trying to rein in executive power that he claims to find regrettable and worrisome. It's all consistent with Obama's favorite rhetorical tactic: granting the validity of an objection in his rhetoric, then totally ignoring the objection in his actions. In so doing, he confuses public discourse and subverts debate. We know that Obama is an executive-power extremist in his actions. He believes the president has the power to intervene militarily without Congress in places that do not threaten America; that he can order American citizens killed in secret without due process; that he can secretly collect data on the phone calls of all Americans; that he can invoke the state-secrets privilege to avoid adjudicating constitutional challenges to his policies on their merits; that he can indefinitely detain prisoners without evidence, charges or due process, that he can sit in judgment of anyone on earth, then send a drone anywhere to strike them.


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