In testimony given to the Congress, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserted that Congress’s war powers authority is irrelevant. As he described it, U.S. intervention in Libya, Syria or elsewhere would be justified by permission from “relevant” international tribunals, such as the U.N. Security Council and NATO. The approval of the congressional representatives being unnecessary.
Presumably the Constitution that vests Congress with the power to declare war as well as deprive presidential warmaking of necessary funding is null and void. It is instructive that President Obama did not consult Congress before intervening in Libya. Based on recent experiences and Panetta’s testimony what is emerging in this administration is the belief that the United States needs permission from foreign tribunals to use military force. This may be in keeping with the transnational impulses of Dean Koh and other State Department spokesmen, but it is certainly not consistent with the Constitution, national traditions and independence.
Even Senator Levin, a liberal to his core, tried to save Panetta from the implications in his testimony, but the Secretary persisted. For transnationals and progressives, the eighteenth century Constitution is an impediment to their goals. The promotion of global norms on human rights, the environment and economic regulation take prevalence over all other considerations. As a strategy for altering the Constitution, transnationalists contend international law should be incorporated into American jurisprudence.
This philosophical stance is not merely legalistic; it goes to the very essence of national sovereignty. Are we a nation independent, relying on self government and the will of the American people or are we to be seen as a centrifugal force rotating as one of many states around a global sun, dependent on our relationship with other states and on “permission” for our actions?
For those who see a world increasingly interdependent, the answer is obvious. What is not so obvious is that many states regard globalization and international law as a way to harness U.S. influence. If unilateral action by the American government is restrained, if Gulliver is tied down, the “malevolent” action of Americans – as the internationalists see it – would be in retreat, if not nonexistent.
As a consequence, transnationalism is an expression of distrust, distrust in prior government engagements, distrust in the artificial limits imposed by the Constitution and distrust in the projection of American power. That this position has been embraced by national elites is startling. However, the impulse for acceptance is a belief the United States is in decline. According to this scenario we cannot afford our foreign adventures and will no longer have the will to defend our interests. The default position is progressive internationalism. It takes us off the hook. You don’t have to put your economic house in order and we don’t have to worry about national interests abroad.
Of course, if we went down this road the U.S. would be a different country – a position radicals would embrace. But most Americans do not buy into the transnational position. In fact, poll after poll suggests the American people do not want American soldiers wearing a United Nations insigma on their uniforms. Whether this transnational position is adopted may have more to do with the subtle manner in which elite opinion insinuates its agenda into daily government decisions than some plebiscite on the nation’s future. In the process of managing details a lot of damage can occur.
For example, Secretary Panetta, managing the largest bureaucracy in government, offers daily signals to his staff and associates. What does he say to engender a belief in transnational defense decisions? What precisely does cooperation with Russia mean? Who will be invited to review defense installations? The future of defense decisions has arrived. Anticipated cuts in the defense budget over the next decade total a trillion dollars. The net result is apparent—a hollowing of military capacity and an inability to act unilaterally.
President Obama promised to change America and change he has brought. The question that remains is whether this is the change Americans wanted and whether this is the change with which we can live.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.