Belmont Club

Being Your Own Man

The Washington Post notes that certain Arab countries have offered to pay for the “invasion” of Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry said at Wednesday’s hearing that Arab counties have offered to pay for the entirety of unseating President Bashar al-Assad if the United States took the lead militarily. With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes. They have. That offer is on the table.  Asked by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) about how much those countries would contribute, Kerry said they have offered to pay for all of a full invasion.

One reason why Congress is vested with the power to declare war is because whoever pays the piper calls the tune. If the KSA et al. are paying the piper, they will certainly be calling the tune. For the executive branch to order a Syrian operation bankrolled by the Arabs  is to effectively shift the allegiance of the executive branch from its legitimate paymaster — the American people — to a foreign one. From an intellectual and moral perspective, though probably not a legalistic one, this borders on disloyalty.

It is in this regard that the failure to take the case to the public becomes so unwise. If Obama had simply made a decision to act on Syria prior to or independently of the Arab offer by making the case to the American people, submitting to Congress first, then the operation would have been decided independently, on the basis of national self-interest.

Any subsequent Arab offer would merely have been a generous offer to support an earlier decision. But for the executive to treat with a foreign paymaster prior to taking the case to America while evading, until forced, placing the matter before the constitutionally mandated branch looks very, very bad, perhaps not legally, but morally.

In terms of legalisms, Obama is doubtless parsing his words. As everyone should know by now with regards to Syria, he said “I didn’t set a red line” despite everyone remembering exactly the opposite. He said “the world set a red line. My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility’s on the line. And America and Congress’ credibility’s on the line.” That’s what he he told reporters in Stockholm.

Sure. I believe him. He didn’t set the red line. Somebody else did.

Nafeez Ahmed at the Guardian quotes a RAND study that advocates setting one Arab country against the other, one Islamic sect against the other and to undermine Arab oil strength to win the Long War. The RAND study is well worth the read. Would that it were true. Ahmed describes it as “disturbing strategy.”

It’s really a policy paper written by low-level staffers describing eight scenarios which the U.S. might find itself in and providing a strategic framework for winning. It shows more strategy than the administration is capable of. It is the way the administration should be thinking if it were capable of thinking for itself; if it were capable of perceiving its own self-interest. It is the unfortunate case that they cannot. What is disturbing is that the administration has no strategy other than to act like Pavlov’s dogs and salivate at the sight of money.

They will do the bidding of whatever lobbyist feeds them and brag to Congress about it. Obama allegedly made his decision during a 45 minute walk in the White House Rose Garden.  “At the Last Minute, Obama Alone Made Call to Seek Congressional Approval,” says the Wall Street Journal. Did they mean he was alone with his phone? Is that how he makes up his mind?

To go to war under these leaders would be like undertaking to climb K2 with a carload of clowns.

It is little wonder that people think the old system no longer workers. The campaign to repeal the 16th Amendment was launched yesterday. “The Sixteenth Amendment (Amendment XVI) to the United States Constitution allows the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results.” The petition to start the repeal is here. If the Saudis can pay for “the invasion,” maybe they can pay for Secretary Kerry’s State Department as well.

One of the reasons why Congress vested the war power in Congress and the reason why Congress was supposed to have been a large body was to make it hard or impossible to buy off. “The founders envisioned population growth and proposed a maximum ratio of 1 per 50,000, which today would produce a Congress of slightly more than 6,000 members”

Moreover, the early congressmen rarely served more than one term. Today incumbents are retired by natural death or old age. They have become a permanent class. Six thousand talkative politicians in office for one or at most two terms would be a body almost impossible to suborn. Not even the Saudis could secretly bend them. They’d blab. Or someone, somewhere wouldn’t go along. Statistical variation would guarantee it. But the modern Congress has been capped. They are a permanent class.

Obama went one further and decided he didn’t need to consult Congress. All he needed to consult now was himself; on a 45 minute walk with his phone. This puts an extraordinary amount of power in the hands of men who can operate secretly. Perhaps Obama is not corrupt. I would not suggest it. But the system he has created breeds corruption. It almost guarantees it. America is still fortunate in that this vast, secret power has been entrusted to a relative incompetent. But one day a Stalin or Napoleon will seize the Oval Office. And then the fat will be in the fire.

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