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ICBM

Since the Cold War, Presidents have had the ability to use the nation’s nuclear weapons without prior authorization by Congress.  Current law allows Presidents to shoot first and asks questions later.  This must change.  The time has come to rein in the President’s authority within traditional Constitutional limits by updating the War Powers Resolution.

Current doctrine rests on three assumptions – that unbounded Presidential authority to use the military is necessary for defense (the Necessity assumption), that the Constitution gives Presidents that authority (the Commander in Chief assumption), and that elections will reliably choose Presidents with the judgment, character and wisdom appropriate to such power (the Character assumption).  All three assumptions are false.

Necessity: Rapid military response by a President acting alone would be required in only the most extreme and unlikely scenarios.  The President’s authority to act alone can and should be limited to those situations.  Congress should update the War Powers Resolution to limit Presidential authority to take military action to emergencies in which Congress cannot be consulted, and to require that other senior officials outside of the President’s chain of command concur with the President’s judgement.  An exception should be made in only the most exigent circumstances.

Commander in Chief: Presidential authority to command the military is not absolute.  Military commanders, including the Commander in Chief, are always limited to the lawful use of forces under their command.  As the Constitution puts it, the President’s authority as Commander in Chief applies only “when called into the actual Service of the United States”.  Congress has the sole authority to make war and define the lawful parameters under which the Commander operates.

It has always been so throughout history.   It is the Sovereign power of a country which delegates military authority to Commanders, such as the President; Commanders have no self-authorizing power to make war.  For the United States, the sovereign power to make war is vested solely in Congress.

Character:  Presidential elections sometimes fail to bring us leaders who are widely trusted, both Democrats and Republicans.  At times this has been more obvious, troubling and dangerous.  However well chosen a President may be, it is unwise to delegate too much power to any one person.  We are flawed creatures, and our Constitution was designed to provide a measure of protection from human frailties.

Irresponsible Presidents are a rarity, but we cannot rely on that alone.  We need an updated War Powers Resolution to provide rapid defense in emergencies, but to deny any President the means to start unauthorized war.  Any broader authority subverts the Constitution, and places us all at untenable risk.

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A selfish world is not in our interests.  The paradox of America First is that it not only harms our trading partners and our strategic partners, it forces them to do the same to us and others.  Trade and international relations, like friendship or marriage, is not a zero sum game.  Taking care of one’s constituents is what politicians are supposed to do.  Doing that well requires vision and wisdom one only hopes this administration will acquire before too much damage is done.

888310_40006bf856fa4889a769e8d5541e98d4The on-going clash between left and right is putting at risk the stability of Constitutional democracy, the rule of law, peace, and prosperity.  Conservatives and Liberals must stop shouting at each other long enough to notice and protect more important shared values, and to halt the destruction of institutions in motion now that threatens to destroy us all.

Left and right speak to some common goals including shared prosperity, and respect for democracy and the rule of law.  Where left and right part is the means.  Left sees state intervention on behalf of those who struggle as the means to shared prosperity, whereas right sees less fettered market forces as the means to shared prosperity.

Neocons and demagogues push the right a fatal step further – they see the destruction of the state as legitimate means to an end.  Economic self-interest has been perverted into hostility to the state, hostility to foreigners, and hostility to stabilizing international norms and institutions.  For some conservatives, it has been a convenient rhetorical tool to sell limited taxation and regulation at the ballot box.  However most conservatives never sought to destroy the institutions of democracy.

Now, reap the whirlwind.  The destruction of the state and the rise of demagogues is a danger to all, right and left.

[H]istory tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war

That brings us to Thomas Picketty, whose simple and unassailable observation about income and wealth reveals a dangerous failure to deliver on the promise.  Left and right can debate why until the cows come home.  What’s undeniable is that the status quo isn’t working well enough for too many of us.  That is an unstable situation, and it is a fundamental threat to peace, prosperity and democracy.

venn-3-001

The #1 most pressing problem is that left and right are dissipating all their energies debating the means to prosperity, and are missing out on the far more important shared concern.  Demagogues and authoritarians seek to destroy the state as a path to free markets and personal power.  They will take us all down with them if we do not act.  The green elephant in the room (above) threatens to destroy us all.

The hope is in a faith that unites many: Constitutional democracy, rule of law, state institutions, the international security architecture, and a kind of global integration good for all.  This is where we must turn our attention.

This is a call for good people on the right and left to put aside the questions that divide, for a time, and turn to the far more urgent problem – how do we preserve Constitutional democracy, the international security architecture, peace, and human decency against the rising tide of nationalism, foolish demagoguery, authoritarianism, and ill-informed or malevolent leadership?

If we don’t act, history tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

citizenshipThere are many grounds to criticize the immigration order, but a Muslim ban it is not.

The order is harsh, ambiguous, and appears to have had inadequate internal review before being published.  Moreover, the idea itself is a blunt, likely ineffective or counter-productive policy tool. But it is not a Muslim ban.  Reporting it that way undermines credibility of the very institutions whose credibility is needed to hold the Trump administration to account.

The order should have a sunset provision, provision for the screening of friends and such as translators for the State Department and military, and should move from blanket ban to individualized, careful screening as quickly as possible.

Criticism of the order is justified, but it should focus on the actual flaws, better alternatives, and avoid hyperbole.

trump-vs-chinaThe first casualty of Trump’s withdrawal from TPP is not trade – it’s trust. China is the beneficiary.

History may record that the American Century ended in the Pacific today with TPP.  China is poised to become the axis about which all other Asian countries must revolve – economically, politically and militarily.  America has left the stage.

It’s no surprise that dependability doesn’t figure in Trump’s transactional world view. He built an empire by repeatedly, publicly walking out on his commitments. And, as he will tell you, that’s how he won.  Q.E.D.

TPP was not a great deal. It should not have been signed. But it should have been renegotiated. The strategic value to America of Pacific prosperity and stability would have been enormous. The loss will reverberate down through history, and will be seen as a fateful turning point for Asia and for Pax Americana generally.

If there’s any hope, it’s that Trump’s withdrawal may be a negotiating position, not a final answer.

American First, but How?

600px-flag_of_the_united_states-svgHow will Trump act out his slogan, “America First”?

There are two broad possibilities, one transactional, the other strategic.  The transactional stream views each choice as a zero-sum game.  When one country gains an advantage, another loses.  The strategic stream seeks opportunities for mutual gain, sees peace and prosperity beyond our borders as good for America too, and considers whether both short and longer term consequences will be good for us.

Here are some examples:

TRADE

Transactional

  • We win if we maximize our exports and minimize our imports
  • We win if we exclude goods that can be made domestically

Strategic

  • We win if we maximize trade volume balanced equally
  • We win if we achieve full employment domestically, even if we import at high volume
  • We win if we and other countries have stronger economies, rising wages and improving working conditions

NATO

Transactional

  • We win if we have a strong military
  • Allies must take care of themselves, and be no burden to us
  • If our allies need help, we will be there if we see it as in our interests to do so at the time.

Strategic

  • We win if we and our allies all have a strong military
  • When our allies are strong, it’s good for us.
  • If our allies need help, they can rely on us 100%.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Transactional

  • We can weather the storm at home, if it comes
  • Drill, baby, drill

Strategic

  • Instability beyond our borders is a threat to us
  • We can prosper by developing and selling the energy solutions of tomorrow

ISRAEL

Transactional

  • Israel right or wrong

Strategic

  • General peace and prosperity for all is good for us and good for Israel

So the questions is not, America First or World First.  The question is, which vision of America First really does put America first?

In the wake of Trump’s dangerous electoral potency, win lose or draw, the unsolved question is, what can legitimate politicians do?

First, diagnose the problem.

Misdirection is at the heart of it. From the Koch brothers, to Rush and O’Reilly, to Trump, the false message is, blame the guy lower on the social ladder than you – Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, etc. Pay no attention to the elites who captured all the wealth created in the past 20 years. It’s the guy crawling up the ladder from under you who is your enemy – the dirty immigrant who may be a lurking terrorist, the foreign laborer more desperate and more willing to work for low wages than you. That guy is the cause of your problems. Sure, Walmart’s got a shitty job for you, and that’s the best you can find, but pay no attention to why all you’ve got is a shitty job. Instead, watch out for that filthy Mexican, who will gladly take that shitty job in a heartbeat.

It’s classic misdirection.

Marxists have long understood that global worker solidarity was an essential ingredient if working people were to get a fair slice of the pie. The super rich understand this too – which is why they funded culture wars and welfare wars to distract working people, and when those staples of Republican strategy started to lose potency, they told you to blame Mexicans and Muslims for your trumped up troubles.

Our legitimate politicians have to have the courage to point the finger at the very rich hands that feed them – or else we will have another Trump, and he’ll win the election. That shitty job at Walmart has to be linked to that shitty job in a Chinese iPhone factory or lithium mine. They’re the same raw deal, caused by the same global power brokers. Our trade deals must link together the interests of workers, not erect barriers, so both Chinese and American workers see their wages and conditions brought up together, and producers can’t move from country to country in search of ways around sharing the profits.

The only true thing Trump has said is to point the finger at Wall Street. They are in on the deal. But the other targets – Muslims, Mexicans, women, Chinese, and others – they’re fellow victims of a rigged system, and our politicians need to say so.