(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
In the name of national security, US President Barack Obama, through the power of executive prerogative, has obscured the boundaries of the balance of powers and responsibilities of the branches of United States government. His actions have given new meaning to executive overreach.
Instead of taking Bill Clinton’s 1990’s approach to an opposition-controlled Congress, reaching across the aisle to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, seeking workable consensus, the president has legislated from the Oval Office.
He believes he knows better than Congress, the American people and the framers of the constitution. Below are examples of how the president has chosen to bypass Congress, in the name of his own version of “national security.”
Through political machinations, a treaty with Iran that clearly required 60 senators for approval was moved forward with only 42 senators voting for approval. Knowing that there was very little support in Congress for the most consequential and controversial American treaty of the past 30 years, the administration negotiated an “international agreement” and claimed it did not need congressional approval because it was not a “treaty.” The American public be damned, as the polls were strongly against the deal with an unrepentant revolutionary terrorist state whose hegemonic ambitions were thereby backed by the US with international validation and sanctions relief.
The administration’s specious argument was that over the past 30 years, presidential “executive agreements” replaced treaties in the majority of cases. This has been true of many less consequential arrangements, but no, there has not previously been a White House end-run around the Senate’s constitutional responsibility on an issue of this magnitude, which is a significant treaty, offering major concessions to appease a primary enemy that swears its enmity to this day.
The visa imbroglio came in December 2015 when the president signed a law that required visas for those who traveled to terrorist havens like Iran. Remember, Iran is still considered the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with the blood of Americans on its hands, mainly through its supply of IEDs to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president let the Iranians know that he would unilaterally waive the visa requirement for Iran in the name of our national security. The perverse logic for this was Iran’s threat to cancel the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the president did not acquiesce.
Now, not a week into the new year, breaching a law from December 2015 with the ink still not dry on the paper appears to be no impediment to this administration.
Spying on Israel
After the embarrassing Wikileaks revelation that the US was spying on its allies, the president, according to the AP, promised that he would limit spying on “friendly heads of state.” I guess this administration no longer considers Israel a friendly country since, according to The Wall Street Journal, the president and his anti-Israel team, led by national security adviser Susan Rice, decided to continue spying on Israel. His hollow protestations that the US-Israel relationship is unbreakable, and that the US “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct,” are unconvincing. As I have opined for seven years, Obama’s goal from the start was to not only to create daylight between the nations, but also to permanently weaken the bonds between them.
To this administration, the logic is clear: Israel is not an ally. It is a national security liability. A one-way détente or alliance with the mullahcracy is worth more to the Obama administration than the decades-old US-Israel relationship.
Israel’s sharing of intelligence, improvements to American weapons and armor that have saved American soldiers’ lives, the forward basing of American weapons for future conflicts and the shared values of our two nations mean little to this administration. The animus goes well beyond the administration’s personal dislike for the Israeli prime minister.
Now it seems in the name of national security the administration not only eavesdropped on the only democracy in the Middle East, but also spied on conversations between US lawmakers and Israeli officials as well as on conversations between those lawmakers and pro-Israel Americans.
A pattern of bypassing Congress
In 2011 Bruce Ackerman, writing in Foreign Policy, was prescient in describing the administration’s lack of respect for the constitution in the name of national security – at that time in regard to unilateral actions against Libya.
Obama’s administration is breaking new ground in its construction of an imperial presidency – an executive that increasingly acts independently of Congress at home and abroad.
Over the past 25 years, Congress far too often has deferred to the executive branch on foreign policy and national security interests. Too many in Congress have excused and rationalized executive prerogative and unilateral actions. Congress must step up to the plate and once again assert its constitutional obligations. If not for this administration, then for the next.
It is interesting that the president came to power promising transparency and to avoid the executive overreach of president Bush. Yet the insularity of this administration rivals the paranoiac approach of Richard Nixon.
The left-leaning Atlantic wrote these sentiments in 2012: “Despite a history of skepticism toward invocations of executive privilege, President Obama – who promised to run ‘the most transparent administration in history’ – has come to appreciate their utility.”
President Obama’s sophistry is on full display when he claims that he has not used executive orders more than other administrations. Yet the left-leaning USA Today wrote last year: “By issuing his directives as ‘memoranda’ rather than executive orders, Obama has downplayed the extent of his executive actions… President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history – using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders. When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman.”
The right-leaning Heritage Foundation’s Elizabeth Slattery and Andrew Kloster saw a similar pattern: “Stretching executive power beyond the bounds of reasonableness has been a hallmark of President Obama’s administration. When his policies fail to make it through Congress, he imposes ‘laws’ by executive fiat. When he disagrees with the law or finds it politically expedient not to enforce the law, he ignores it… this expansive view of executive power is not what our Constitution envisions.”
The last 12 months of the president’s term will be highlighted with unprecedented unilateral executive actions, many in the name of knowing what is best for American national security. It will likely harm American interests in the long term, handicap the next president’s latitude to deal with foreign policy issues and further weaken the US-Israel relationship. Perhaps that is his desired legacy.
The writer, a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post, is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network, a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.