The Week

(Roman Genn)


Alan Grayson, Democratic ex-congressman from Florida, is running to recapture his seat. But first he ran a red light in downtown Orlando and ran into a bus. No serious damage was done, except to Grayson’s car, which had to be towed, and perhaps to Grayson’s persona: The fiery populist was driving a Mercedes to a $1,000-a-head fundraiser, featuring celebrity guests Cheryl Hines and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He has at least achieved the distinction, as one wag noted, of becoming the first politician to throw himself under a bus.

Before the 2008 election, Obama campaign adviser Eric Holder thrilled the left-leaning American Constitution Society with a red-meat speech equating Bush counterterrorism tactics with war crimes — “needlessly abusive and unlawful practices” that “both violate international law and the United States Constitution.” His account of Bush’s alleged roughshod ride over the rights of American-citizen terrorists closely tracked the brief Holder had filed as a private lawyer on behalf of “dirty bomber” José Padilla, the al-Qaeda operative and U.S. national detained as an enemy combatant while conspiring to carry out a “second wave” of post-9/11 attacks. Back then, Holder conceded that endowing American enemy combatants with the rights of civilian defendants would compromise the nation’s ability to stop terror attacks and gather precious intelligence, yet he insisted that this was a price worth paying to forestall the purportedly greater threat: unchecked presidential power over the conduct of war. Now, though, his patron has the unchecked power. So, in this election cycle, Holder is become the champion of targeted killings of American terrorists. After all, he explains, the criminal-justice process cannot protect us, and “due process” has never meant “judicial process” in wartime. President Bush should probably not hold his breath for an apology.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, challenged by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan about the administration’s reckless budgeting, explained his position thus: “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.” Which is to say, the most senior economic policymaker in the Obama administration does not have a plan to address the most pressing economic problem of our time — except to thwart Paul Ryan. That being the case, it takes a good deal of chutzpah for the president to campaign against the allegedly obstructionist House Repub­licans. Chutzpah he has, a plan he doesn’t.

In startling testimony, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserted that Congress’s war powers are irrelevant. Instead, the Obama administration claims military intervention in Syria could be justified by permission from relevant international tribunals, like the U.N. Security Council and NATO. The imprimatur of the people’s representatives is unnecessary, Panetta argues, notwithstanding that the same Constitution that makes Obama commander-in-chief vests Congress with the power to declare war as well as the discretion to deprive presidential warmaking of necessary funding. The administration’s position should surprise no one: Obama did not consult Congress before intervening in Libya; he consulted the U.N. and the Arab League. But Panetta’s claim is badly flawed. Of course it makes political sense to draw allies into coalitions against common enemies. But their approval is irrelevant to the constitutional question of whether the president has the authority to initiate a military action. Holding otherwise implies that the United States needs permission from foreign tribunals to use force when American interests are at stake. That’s a dangerous doctrine to promote for short-term political expedience.

April 2, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 6

  • Mitt Romney, the Mormons, and those who hate them.
  • Claims that the GOP is fighting a war on women’ can be made to backfire.
  • It is far from unthinkable that we will have one.
  • Some thoughts on a slippery word and concept.
Books, Arts & Manners
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .