What Is the US Navy Doing in the Persian Gulf?
by William S. Smith
American alliances and security commitments tend to live on long after the world has changed. Many of our far flung military bases are legacies of a Cold War that ended decades ago. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nato alliance became all but obsolete, so it eagerly embraced conflicts in the Balkans, Libya, Syria and other locations far from the Central European theater it was originally designed to protect. However, none of these holdover security commitments seem as absurd as US military operations in the Persian Gulf during a COVID-19 oil market.
As recently as last month, the United States was keeping two aircraft carrier battle groups deployed near the Persian Gulf. The US Navy is cooperating with the US Army and Air Force to keep Apache helicopters and AC-130 gunships available to ‘defend its presence’ in the Gulf and to ‘guard oil tankers against attack’. Not to be left out, on April 20 the Marine Corps’ 26th Expeditionary Unit conducted a mock amphibious assault of two islands off Saudi Arabia. The goal of this Marine operation was to train for a possible ‘crisis’ and to protect the ‘free flow of commerce’.
Wait a minute: when oil prices have collapsed, and our own oil industry is flat on its back, how is protecting freedom of navigation for Saudi oil in the interests of the United States? One writer at Forbes has cheekily suggested that President Trump’s recent threat against Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf is designed to provoke Iran into doing precisely what the US Navy says their mission is to prevent: block the Strait of Hormuz and raise the price of oil.
While there is no way to verify Trump’s intentions, the writer raises an important question. We have been told for years that US naval operations in the Persian Gulf, most recently called Operation Sentinel, are designed to prevent a disruption in the world’s oil supply. A recent report from the Center for New American Security (CNAS) had argued that an Iranian military escalation that resulted in the closing of the Strait would result in oil prices rising from $65 per barrel to $175 to $200 per barrel. This CNAS warning is now as obsolete as wind-powered cargo ships.
Given that the price of oil is now in negative territory and may remain there, the previously stated goals of these naval operations are now downright ludicrous. A credible argument can indeed be made that a disruption of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz would actually help the US and might save the domestic US oil industry from collapse. Closing the Strait would have the added benefit of punishing the Saudi oil industry that has done so much to hurt American producers.
If freedom navigation is no longer a credible mission for the US Navy in the Gulf, what then is driving American policy? Why do we continue to deploy huge military assets to the Gulf? If you read the statements of US policymakers carefully, you realize that the mission is an imperial one: to bend Iran to our will.
In a hawkish speech at the Hoover Institution, secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently argued that the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani would ‘restore deterrence’ and persuade Iran to ‘behave like a normal nation’. The assassination of Soleimani was intended, we were told, to prevent attacks like the New Year’s Eve attack by Iranian backed-militias on the US embassy in Baghdad. Two aircraft carriers in the Gulf were also intended to deter such behavior. Yet, within a couple short months, Iranian backed-militias were launching more ‘audacious’ attacks on American troops in Iraq and Iranian boats were harassing American naval vessels in the Gulf.
Obviously, the US ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran is not working to improve Iranian behavior. Yet the policy continues because the true purpose of American policy is democracy promotion in Iran and regime change. As Sec. Pompeo explicitly said at Hoover, the goal toward Iran is to ‘defend freedom and liberty around the world’. The United State must support the Iranian people ‘in the streets…in their calls for freedom and justice’. Our Iranian policy is identical to the one that justified the invasion of Iraq: to impose American-style democracy on a nation with no cultural, historical or religious traditions of republican government. President Trump, Pompeo said, has made ‘our military the strongest it’s ever been’ so the US can spread democratic values. We have still not learned from Iraq that the forced imposition of democracy by the American military does not create a more peaceful world, and does not enhance our own security.
With the naval patrols in the Gulf and the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran, it is clear that American policy has become decoupled from American national interests. Neither freedom of navigation for Saudi oil nor a major war with Iran would enhance American security. This is a sure sign that ideology is guiding policy. This ideology, as one writer put it, is ‘the ideology of American empire’. In policy makers like Pompeo, the Wilsonian, neoconservative dream of democratizing the world lives on.
Democracies that act, not on the basis of national interest, but from a boastful belief in their own exceptionalism, do not long survive. Just ask the Athenian army that found itself at the bottom of a quarry in Syracuse. If we were sensible, we would pause our military operations in the Gulf, but we all know this will not happen because the goal is American empire, not protecting American interests.
William S. Smith is a research fellow and the managing director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America. His most recent book is Democracy and Imperialism.
All is Not What it Seems in Sweden
by Eva Johannissen
Sweden has been regularly cited in American media as a country that chose an approach to the Covid-19 pandemic different from that of the U.S. and the European countries. There have been pictures of Swedes crowding into outdoor restaurants, enjoying sunny early spring weather. Streets in central Stockholm have been shown looking “normal,” although the density of shoppers and pedestrians had been exaggerated through tele-lens photography. These news reports seemed to suggest social life little affected by the pandemic, as if Sweden had taken a more relaxed approach to the virus than other countries.
Because of its tax-financed health care, long vacations, and parental leave policies, Sweden has long been viewed by liberal Americans as a model. For this reason, some Americans have speculated that the Swedish way of handling the pandemic must be another example of enlightened thinking. Paradoxically, in recent weeks many on the American right have also pointed to Sweden, thinking that it is showing unexpectedly good sense.
However, the impressions created have been largely misleading. Perhaps the most notable difference between Sweden and most other countries in dealing with the virus is that the Swedes have let daycare centers and schools for up to 15-year-olds remain open. But some of them have closed on their own accord, and 30-40 percent of children have been absent from the rest since the crisis started. High schools and universities have long been closed.
Sweden has otherwise chosen much the same approach to the pandemic as other countries. Its Central Health Authority (CHA) has issued stringent guidelines for protecting against infections. But the guidelines have from the beginning been transparently contradictory. On the one hand, the CHS has issued only “recommendations,” and, one the other hand, it has clearly demanded that citizens follow them. Here it must be noted that the Swedes are a traditionally consensus-oriented people who can be expected faithfully to abide by government decrees.
The CHA has in this manner rather deviously avoided responsibility, making it possible to place all blame for policies not succeeding on those who have not followed the guidelines.
Some young people in trendy, yuppie parts of Stockholm and other cities have used formal constitutional rights to congregate and frolic, sometimes inspiring older people to follow suit. The government has sharply reprimanded this conduct, threatening restaurant owners with closure if they did not in effect act as government enforcers of the elaborate and rigorous guidelines. Any blame for government policy not working as intended has thus been passed on to the citizens.
Already before the crisis Sweden’s medical system suffered egregiously from queues and severe and increasing understaffing. Like most countries, it was very poorly prepared for a pandemic. Luckily, the worst did not hit Sweden until about a month later than in Italy. Sweden used the respite to reorganize its medical system. All non-urgent operations were cancelled, parts of ICU wards reserved for Covid-19 patients, and field hospitals set up with whatever equipment could be gathered quickly.
Today, with ever new virus patients needing care, hospitals are strictly prioritizing ICU treatment, excluding, for example, patients over the age of eighty and other high risk groups. To ensure that ICU beds are available to new virus patients hospitals are struggling to keep beds unoccupied. Shortages of test kits, face masks, and other protective clothing, etc. remain a huge problem. In proportion to its population Sweden has had about the same death curve as most other Western countries (excepting those that locked down before the epidemic became endemic).
Sweden has a very large elderly population. The death toll in elder-care facilities and among the old in immigrant families has been excruciating. Medical and social workers, who realize that they may be asymptomatic shedders, do not want to perform work without protective clothing, but all such materials are reserved for those treating confirmed cases. Many Swedes are horrified, especially as the government claimed from the beginning to be focusing its strategy on protecting the most vulnerable, the elderly.
Nevertheless, in this country, where public television and radio wholly dominate reporting and opinion-molding, the general population has all along been very favorable to the CHS. Criticisms of measures taken or not taken have been quickly made the object of media and public outcry.
The effect of virus-fighting efforts on the Swedish economy has been devastating. A very large number of small businesses have collapsed. All but essential industries closed down almost immediately and many face bankruptcy. People have been told to refrain from all non-essential travel. Virtually all air travel has been suspended. Unemployment figures are soaring. The opposition parties deem government counter-measures to be too little too late. They are also mainly in the form of interest-bearing loans that are not offered with any expectation that they will be forgiven. Hence companies are fearful of applying for support. Many suspect that some measures are a back-door to socializing large private companies.
Contrary to impressions created in American media, Sweden’s approach to handling the pandemic has not been “relaxed,” but essentially the same as in other Western countries. This country of 10 million has been at least as preoccupied with the pandemic as other countries. Whether its approach has been as efficient remains to be seen. What may stand out as exceptional in the end is Sweden’s glaring lack of preparedness for a pandemic, especially for protecting its elderly, and that the dead are disproportionately recent immigrants.
Eva Johannissen is a Swedish novelist, painter, translator, and retired educator. Article originally published at The American Conservative.
The Blob Sucked Away Your Public Health and Gave You War Instead
By WILLIAM S. SMITH
There was a poignant scene chronicled by the New York Post recently in which hundreds of New Yorkers rushed out to take pictures of the USNS Comfort arriving in New York Harbor. Americans rightly love their military, and finally their leaders have given them a mission that will avail their own nation. I’ll bet the medical personnel aboard the Comfort are very proud of their orders.
It has not been this way for decades. The United States will spend $1.5 trillion on the F-35 fighter plane while our health care workers do not have enough masks. We spent billions to build the health care infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan, but U.S. hospitals may not have enough ventilators for critically ill Americans. As a viral tsunami crashes over us, many leaders are still stuck in the past, with the secretary of state using his time to plot against Iran. In light of our scramble to find the resources to fight the pandemic, does anyone still think it was a good idea to spend more than $6 trillion on a “global war on terror?” Do you feel safer?
We should finally admit that many in the national security establishment are emperors with no clothes, willing to spend trillions in other places while doing very little to actually protect us here at home. I am sure the patriotic rank-and-file service members want desperately to help when their homeland is dealing with a pandemic. Yet this is hard to do from Afghanistan or when you are refueling Saudi bombers over Yemen.
The possibility of a viral pandemic here in America is not some wild, out-of-the-box scenario that no one could foresee. Bill Gates has been warning of the possibility for years. The Nation is now reporting that in January of 2017, the military intelligence community issued a report warning specifically about the threat of a novel influenza pandemic and the likely shortages of ventilators, masks and hospital beds that such a pandemic would generate. The Nation article goes on to quote the retired head of Infectious Diseases and Countermeasures Division at the Defense Intelligence Agency as saying, “The Intelligence Community has warned about the threat from highly pathogenic influenza viruses for two decades at least. They have warned about coronaviruses for at least five years.”
Later in 2018, The Atlantic sagaciously concluded that the United States was not prepared for a flu pandemic and, in the same otherwise excellent article, made the laughable claim that our vulnerability is due to one person: Donald Trump. “The science-minded Barack Obama” could calmly wrestle any pandemic to the ground, The Atlantic told us.
One can argue about the adequacy of Trump’s response, but our lack of preparation is clearly a decades-long, bipartisan failing. Only a hack would dump responsibility for the pandemic at Donald Trump’s doorstep.
When Ebola surged in West Africa, Obama reassured Americans: “In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola reaches our shores, we’ve taken new measures so that we’re prepared at home.” A couple weeks later, two Dallas nurses contracted Ebola because there were no protocols in place to protect them when a Liberian showed up at their hospital. When the swine flu depleted the nation’s stockpile of masks, Obama failed to replenish it, then proceeded to “surge” thousands of troops into Afghanistan. As this existential crisis escalates, can we stop the partisan finger-pointing and finally admit that our “grand strategy” on the world stage has wasted trillions of dollars and failed to protect us?
Some on the left may nod and say: “yes, let’s not spend all this money on the Pentagon; let’s have Medicare-for-All.” There is a one-word reply to that argument: Italy. Tragically, the wonderful Italian people have been let down by their Medicare-for-All health system, which is now telling doctors not to treat any COVID-19 patients older than 60. According to the Commonwealth Fund, “The Italian National Health Service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale) was set up in 1978, with universal coverage, solidarity, human dignity, and health needs as its guiding principles.” The problem is that, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, when you are sick, you need the aid of a physician, not a metaphysician.
Back here at home, the government bureaucracy charged with alerting the nation to pandemics, the Centers for Disease Control, sent faulty COVID-19 tests to state laboratories back in February. If we could have put a widespread testing regime in place, we could have kept sick people at home while healthy people went to work. But the government did not spend any of those war-on-terror trillions to improve our surveillance for a pandemic, and when it arrived, they fumbled the ball. We still do not have a good idea of who is sick and who is not, so we have shut down the country.
Meanwhile, the nation has endured decades of bipartisan attacks on private-sector life science companies because they are “too profitable.” Pharmaceutical companies have made many mistakes in recent decades, such as aggressively marketing opioids and offshoring their manufacturing. But as a former executive at one of these companies, I can tell you that they’ve likely solved the government’s fumbled COVID-19 testing problem and will also bring to market treatments that will mitigate the pandemic.
The biopharmaceutical sector—this includes our great research universities—is one of the crown jewels of the American landscape. It possesses an absolutely awe-inspiring level of scientific prowess. Just read the FDA’s list of drug approvals for 2019 and tell me you want to drain those companies of revenue to pay for a global war on terror.
In the midst of this pandemic, let’s step back and consider what our political leaders have been doing in recent years to protect us: spending trillions of dollars on Middle East wars and “nation-building,” demagogically attacking drug companies that will likely provide the therapies that beat COVID-19, and neglecting basic and inexpensive homeland protection measures such as stockpiling masks. As the pandemic raged in China, senior members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, actually balked at a Pentagon plan to withdraw troops from Africa.
After 9/11, our politicians decided to spend a trillion dollars each year on overseas war. Given our obvious vulnerabilities at home, do we really need to keep doing this?
William S. Smith is research fellow and managing director at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at The Catholic University of America. His recent book is Democracy and Imperialism from the University of Michigan Press.
Article originally published at The American Conservative.
Catholics in Crisis
by CLAES G. RYN
Barely a day goes by without the news media covering some new instance of sexual debauchery, crime, or cover-up in the Catholic Church.
Fingers are pointed at bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope. Coming on top of years of similar revelations, these stories confirm an impression of deep moral-spiritual crisis.
So abundant and disturbing has been the evidence of clerical wrong-doing, callousness, secrecy, and hypocrisy that leading laymen have issued calls for the laity to intercede. Considering that the Catholic Church has always emphasized clerical authority and hierarchical structure, this is an extraordinary development—yet, given the circumstances, a plausible one.
Because of the expectation that priests, bishops, and other religious should be models for the laity, it is not surprising that blame should focus on the hierarchy. And where to turn for remedies, if not to the laity? But to call on the laity to guide the Church is to raise the question of how well-prepared they are for the task. Thomas Jefferson famously believed that no country should go long without a revolution. Government had to be cleansed from time to time by the righteousness of the common people. But Jefferson had a romantic faith in the virtue of the common man that contrasts sharply with the traditional Christian view of human nature.
Bishops and clergy are not uniquely subject to the forces of corruption that have wreaked havoc in the Church. They have been affected by trends in the same society that the laity inhabit. In fact, the laity may well have been even more influenced by questionable views of life that have become increasingly prominent in Western society. Successful lay leadership would thus have to be acutely self-critical and discriminating.
The challenge to Christianity in the last few centuries has not been confined to denying the existence of God.
The basic terms of human existence have been reconsidered. Not only Christianity but the classical Greek and Roman heritage stressed the importance of moral char- acter for personal and social well-being. Human beings were morally cleft, and they had to learn self-control and responsibility. Any genuine social betterment had to begin in this manner. For Christianity, the main obstacle to improving human existence was the fallenness of man. The crux of the moral-spiritual life was to recognize evil in self, repent, and reform self. A central purpose of civi- lization was to support this effort.
But Western high-brow and popular culture alike have long portrayed such notions of self-restraint and character as vestiges of a perverse puritanism. We should not bottle up natural cravings but live out our dreams and longings. We are not to fret over little personal failings but show moral nobility by endorsing virtuous social and political schemes for transforming the human condition. Our goal should be not so much to love neighbor—the people just around us—with all of what it entails of personal, sometimes inconvenient up-close engagement. We should love mankind, whose advancement requires the mobilization of government. This shift from self-reform to socio-political reform proved very appealing in that it greatly relieved the moral burden placed on the person.
Christian love, which had been seen as inseparable from overcoming the sin of self-indulgence, was gradually replaced by the kind of “idealism” that Irving Babbitt called “sentimental humanitarianism.” Moral virtue, previously understood as involving the self-restraint of character and personal responsibility, was redefined to mean feelings of empathy or pity, not for anybody in particular but for large suffering collectives somewhere in the distance, like the hungry or the downtrodden. Love of neighbor, which demands sometimes difficult action or sacrifice here and now, gave way to the sentiment of “brotherhood of man,” which presupposes no difficult self-reform.
The pioneering and paradigmatic figure for this new moral posture was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher of the French Revolution. A new form of spirituality started spreading in the Western world. Its ethos might be summed up in the phrase “daring to share that you care.” The lover of humanity proves his moral bona fides by letting others know that he “feels their pain.” A prominent and distinctive trait of sentimental humanitarianism is its element of self-approbation. Look at me! See how I love everybody! If I treat particular persons close to me badly, that is surely excused by my abundant love for humanity. Christianity had warned against pride and encouraged a humble view of self, but the new sentimental spirituality inflated the ego. Its emphasis was not on moral self-examination but on eradicating social injustice.
When Rousseau’s famous work of pedagogy, Emile, was first published it was condemned by the Archbishop of Paris. Rousseau’s central ideas, specifically, his notion of the natural goodness of man, were obviously antithetical to traditional theological and moral assumptions. His notion of the common good—to be achieved through a soulful radical democracy that released unobstructed popular will—was as sharply anti-traditional. Still, Rousseauistic “idealism” began to transform Christianity. The “freedom, equality, and brotherhood” of the French radicals acquired a “Christian” form, as did the corresponding faith in the People. The new idealism linked up with enlightenment-style social engineering to implement its vision of justice.
In Protestantism an eventual consequence was the so- called Social Gospel, according to which God wants a radical remaking of society. The old belief that sin is chiefly a personal matter and that personal character must contain it—which makes a better society possible—gave way to stressing the need for getting rid of existing socio-political structures. Soon many Catholics, too, came to view the sentimental brotherhood of man as more elevated and generous than the self-control and love of neighbor that had formed the core of Christian responsibility. This radical redefinition of morality and the corresponding change in priorities were somewhat masked because advocates of the new idealism retained the Christian terminology.
As this humanitarian spirituality was adapted to the moral-intellectual habits of the Catholic mind, it often assumed a quasi-Thomistic form. One sees this development particularly well in a mid-20th-century figure who would acquire iconic status: Jacques Maritain. His thought was not univocal, but especially his later work echoed 18th and 19th century liberationist themes. Breaking with the Aristotelian tradition, Maritain became a proponent of democratism, the belief that democracy is divinely ordained. He extolled “prophets of the people” like the fathers of the French Revolution and, in America, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and John Brown. In ways that called to mind Auguste Comte’s religion of humanity, he envisioned “a new age of civilization.” In this new world order all human beings would enjoy basic material and spiritual benefits “free of charge.” A “world council” of wise men would guide the world, overseeing the implementation of “human rights” and the common good.
From the beginning, these intellectual impulses were akin to those of progressive “liberalism” and social democracy. There was soon a Catholic version of the Social Gospel. An extreme form of this gospel was liberation theology, whose call for redemption through socio-economic transformation ran parallel to Marxism. This theology was highly influential in Latin America, especially among the Jesuits. It was in reaction to heavy clerical involvement in politics that John Paul II issued the call to his priests to “return home,” that is, to the things of God.
Catholic attunement to mainstream progressive opinion in the universities and the media was assisted in the United States by status anxiety among the “ethnics.” Catholics, too, could be intellectually sophisticated! A more or less conscious desire to impress secular, established elites or at least reduce their condescension reinforced an inclination to adopt “liberal” sentiments. These could be recast as being deep down not just compatible with but expressive of Christianity. The lines blurred between Catholic thinkers and secular “liberals” like the philosopher John Rawls. Rawls’s highly ahistorical way of thinking about justice, which combined elements of Rousseau, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant, produced abstract principles, sub-principles, and casuistry reminiscent of the most rationalistic varieties of Thomism.
Many Catholic intellectuals continued to resist sentimental idealism. It did after all contradict a Christian view of human nature and traditional moral beliefs. But rationalistic bias made it difficult for Thomists to diagnose the root problem with the new moralism. They were used to giving primacy in moral philosophy to rational principles and rule adherence. Putting reason in charge—getting the mind to think right—was assumed to lead to proper willing. Moral character would somehow flow from or be the same as right reason. They did not see that the great appeal of sentimental humanitarianism was its capturing the imagination, stirring the entire personality with visions and images and benevolent-looking grand causes. The new spirituality also imparted a pleasant feeling of moral superiority. All that was required to be virtuous was to demand Social Justice and Human Rights.
The great socio-political causes made the difficult and often painful tasks of personal repentance, character, and responsibility look almost trivial. The plethora of moral principles produced by more traditional Catholic rationalists were easily swept away by dreams of liberation.
When considering how the laity might help restore the Church to health, it is essential to keep in mind that the sine qua non for curing illness is proper diagnosis. It is not far-fetched to suggest that the mentioned large trends, including the corruption of imagination and erosion of character, contributed to the crisis. The question is not whether these trends, by themselves, caused the crisis. The crisis has many partial explanations. But it seems evident that sentimental humanitarianism played a major role in morally and spiritually disarming and disorienting both laity and clergy.
All the media attention to problems in the Catholic Church has undoubtedly given old anti-Catholic prejudices a new lease on life. What do you expect from “the whore of Babylon”? But to believe that the Catholic Church is singularly susceptible to moral corruption shows great conceit. All of Western civilization has been profoundly impacted by the new idealism, the Protestant churches at least as much as the Catholic Church, though in different ways. Many volumes could be written about the effects outside of the churches. This writer has authored several books and many articles that touch on aspects of the broader problem.
The most nefarious element of the new spirituality may be that it takes little account of personal sinfulness as the central problem of the moral-spiritual life. It denies or downplays the importance of the moral struggle within the individual and the indispensability of character. Moral rationalism does not really understand how to arm the will against the lower desires. It employs such smarts as it has to formulate intricate rules and principles, but without character no amount of intellectual brilliance or teary-eyed sentiment can control the lower desires. Given the spread of sentimental humanitarianism, some such debauchery and evil as has come to light in the Catholic Church was well-nigh inevitable.
One might think that the depth, scope, and nature of the corruption will trigger a fundamental reexamination of common assumptions. Will, then, sentimental idealists start questioning their claim to moral superiority? Their self-applauding moralism is deeply rooted and very pleasing to the ego. The moral rationalists for their part are heavily invested in the belief that the crux of human conduct is for reason to guide us.
That there is imagination and idealism that are very different from what has been described here is not in dispute. Sound imagination and idealism are indispensable to elevating life. The problem is addiction to dubious and even impossible dreams. Terrible evil and suffering has resulted from benevolent-looking but perverse illusion. Neither is the indispensability of reason in dispute. Knowledge must inform conduct. But not even the most intricate ratiocination will rescue souls that are captive to alluring but shoddy spirituality. Rules and principles will not steer people right if will and imagination are pulling them in a different direction. Unless we be guided by what Edmund Burke calls “the moral imagination,” which is sound will and imagination in one, some lower form of imagination will direct the person. Brilliant philosophers in the latter predicament will only argue them- selves deeper and deeper into self-deluding illusion.
One prominent Catholic intellectual who did understand well what most shapes the life of human beings was Pope Benedict XVI. His emphasis on the role of culture and the arts demonstrated an awareness of the impor- tance of imagination in shaping conduct, for good or ill. The accumulating evidence of egregious moral-spiritual corruption in the Church might rattle Catholic intellectuals into a more than marginal reassessment of deep-seated propensities, but, because of the strength of the influences here discussed, there is a danger that instead they will double down on the same old same old, saying that this time we must really, really follow the rules, show that we really believe in them! Or they may say that now we must really commit to Social Justice. Should the laity have these inclinations, they may be no more able than the hierarchy to steer the Church right. They would be falling back into a mind-set and sensibility that not only failed to prevent the current crisis but must share the blame for it.
Fostering a more than superficial renewal of the moral- spiritual and intellectual life is a daunting task. It should be evident from what has been argued here that having the laity seize the initiative is not without danger. Yet the laity could, under wise leadership, play a redemptive role. The time may be ripe for creative, perhaps audacious, thought and action to revivify a faltering tradition.
Claes G. Ryn is Professor of Politics and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at The Catholic University of America. His many books include A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural World, which is now in an expanded paperback edition, and the novel A Desperate Man.
Article originally published in The American Conservative, March/April 2020.
Examining Iran’s Role in the New Middle East
Like two hostile prisoners on the run and shackled to each other by fate, Iran and the United States continue their mutual loathing and periodic conflict. The inevitability of talking and even cooperating, however, also looms over both in a region neither can shape unilaterally. Washington and Tehran’s shared distaste for a wider military conflict and the gradual demise of the Iran nuclear agreement are again focusing attention on the path to any renewed U.S.-Iranian diplomacy.
History can be useful here. The ancient Persian encounter with the West began with a push in the mid-6th century BCE from the Iranian heartland. The stunning result was the consolidation of culturally diverse and mutually antagonistic kingdoms into an empire comprising the vast area of modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey. Parts of the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania would be added by the early fifth century BCE. This strategic success hinged on highly adept internal diplomacy and effective administration by regional satraps or governors who were the Persian king’s eyes and ears and mouthpieces.
No wonder then that the story of Persia and the West in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE features strategic competition and conflict. That story begins with Herodotus’ account of the Persian Wars of 490 and 480–479 BCE and still shapes our modern perspective. But we ignore at our own cost the recorded instances of cooperation, respectful co-existence, and cultural exchange during these two centuries—patterns and precedents that can expand how we conceive of today’s U.S.-Iran rivalry. The kind of history Iran and the United States now choose to frame their future diplomacy will set the tone and define the limits of dialogue as much as the difficult issues to be negotiated.
We are not at a good starting point when recent history—overflowing with the mutual recriminations and humiliations spawned by the 1979 Iranian revolution—takes center stage. It is as if the two sides came into being ex nihilo right at that moment and took notice of each other for the first time. The United States emphasizes that Iran took U.S. diplomats hostage, kills U.S. soldiers in Iraq, spreads Shia radicalism, and threatens Israel’s existence. In Washington’s prism, the unacceptable pursuit of a nuclear capability, sponsorship of terrorism, and threats to global energy flows in the Persian Gulf are the tools of 1979 revolutionary Iran.
Iran, in turn, makes no apologies. It sees itself as the only power in the region able to resist U.S. dominance by means of its own political ideas, forms of religious governance, and muscling of military might. The United States is seen as the foreign enemy that infringed on Iranian sovereignty by backing a repressive Shah and now seeks to frustrate the revolution begun by overthrowing the Shah’s regime. Washington protects regional rival Israel, antagonistically deploys the U.S. Navy along Iran’s shores, bases land forces in neighboring Iraq, and seeks to contain Iran’s economic development through decades of sanctions. For both sides, the geopolitical cosmos is forty years old and both are reluctant to discuss publicly their recent tacit cooperation in taking down the ISIS Caliphate. What we will call the 1979 framework remains dominant.
This approach has outlived its strategic utility. The 1979 framework was plausible when the region’s governance was a mix of authoritarian republics and stable monarchies—a status quo that made Iran’s revolutionary religious identity and mass politics flash like a neon billboard the United States could not ignore. Moreover, Iran’s bid to export its revolution throughout the Middle East threatened a regional order dominated first by Cold War superpowers and then briefly the United States—an affront that the United States also concluded it had to challenge.
What Bob Dylan first sang in the early 1960s, however, still holds true: “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The 1979 framework ill suits the evolving Middle East and undermines the potential for a restarting of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic engagement. Sub-state actors that operate violently across borders, an information and communications technology revolution, and an increasingly fragmented ideological landscape make up the new Middle East. Autonomous regional powers in the post–Cold war era are also shaping a new state system in which the United States and Iran are only two among a suite of claimants to regional influence. Iran’s 1979 revolutionary zeal and U.S. bids for preeminence now meet in a much more volatile setting. A nuclear agreement limited mostly to exchanging isotopes for dollars always faced a steep climb in accounting for these seismic regional changes.
A reprise of important attributes of Persian-Western relations since antiquity offers useful, new ways to conceptualize a potential diplomatic process in this moment of change. It’s important to remember at the outset that the Persian Empire was dealing with a “West” that was never a United States of Greece. Robert Graves’ satiric poem “The Persian Version” captures how the far-off regional skirmish at Marathon involving an infinitesimal fraction of the Persian military force fighting briefly on a single day against the soldiers of a still obscure pre-imperial city-state or polis (Athens) was viewed far off in Susa or Persepolis. Aesop’s fable of the flea and the camel gives us a truer picture. Marathon is just not an anchor for a binding narrative of Persian-Western conflict.
Instead of staying fixed in a Herodotean mindset of East-West antagonism, we might consider that we have the power and resources of the Persian Empire in the 6th–4th centuries BCE. Iran is the little guy, the resource-limited Athens. We would do well to consider a model of practical political ties as regional conditions change. In a few decades in the late 5th century BCE, Persia evolved from an existential threat to an external balancer of—some might say, meddler in—Greek affairs. In the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian empire morphed from catastrophic score-settling to unprecedented political and cultural exchange. Even the religious chasm and military conflict between the Byzantine and Persian Sassanian empires in the 5th century CE were mediated by high-level diplomacy and buffered by sustained cross-border knowledge exchange of translations of Byzantine held secular and religious texts.
The Iliad—the culturally foundational ancient Greek epic that contains Near Eastern literary influences—offers a final lesson to Iran and the United States to stop perpetuating the bitterness of 1979. The Iliad reminds us that conflict does not inevitably consist of stereotypically evil enemies. Troy in Homer’s conception was a surrogate for a Greek city-state under siege. The poem presents sympathetically Troy’s king and queen, the prince commander of Trojan forces and his wife and infant child, and the nobility with which they face and endure their truly tragic fates. The Iliad concludes with the united population of Troy lamenting the death of their heroic prince commander Hector. The greatest Greek field commander Achilles, who knows he will die soon too, made this public ceremony at Troy possible by diplomatically granting an armistice after one-on-one discussions with the Trojan king Priam.
Still, all the miserable human suffering and loss throughout the Iliad was caused by an initial diplomatic failure and because hubris in the form of overreach against an enemy always has tragic consequences.
Andrew Gilmour, a retired senior CIA analyst, is author of A Middle East Primed for New Thinking: Insights and Policy Options from the Ancient World.
Tom Palaima, a MacArthur fellow, is Robert M. Armstrong professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin.
Article originally published at The National Interest.
Donald J. Trump and the ‘America First’ Fairy Tale
by CLAES G. RYN
Donald Trump ran for president claiming that he wanted to end foreign policy interventionism and nation-building. He described the Iraq War a terrible mistake. Thus, he incurred the great displeasure of the U.S. foreign policy and national security establishment, suffering the wrath of its most hawkish wing, the neoconservative network. During the election campaign, many of its members signed an ad in the New York Times declaring Trump’s anathema. Their hostility only deepened as he continued speaking of the lives and money spent in the Middle East as a complete waste.
But hawks have recently developed a new appreciation for the president because his actions have contradicted his previously stated goals. Coming on top of a series of foreign policy and national security appointments that have had the same trajectory, the assassination of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani gave hawks real hope that at least in practice Trump was not insisting on his earlier foreign policy views.
The culmination of the president’s paradoxical, seemingly self-defeating appointments was the selection of John Bolton as national security advisor and Michael Pompeo as secretary of state. Of his political alliances none could be more paradoxical than that with Senate super-hawks and interventionists Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton. These are, after all, favorites of the president’s most stalwart neoconservative enemies, as is Vice President Mike Pence and his national security staff.
If the president genuinely believes what he has so often said about “America First” and interventionism, then his repeatedly appointing advisors who do not share his basic predilections requires an explanation. Three years into his presidency it seems insufficient to point to the president’s inexperience and unfamiliarity with who represents what in Washington.
Assuming that Trump really means what he says—that he wants to put America first and end the “forever wars”—those who have aspired to become his advisors on foreign policy must have pretended sympathy for his basic beliefs. It is here relevant that the leaders of his foreign policy team have long been a part of or closely aligned with the neoconservative network. In that network admirers of the revered political theorist Leo Strauss (who died in 1973) have been ubiquitous. A famous Straussian stratagem is that if truly enlightened people—“philosophers”—want to have political influence, they must feign loyalty to a leader but work quietly to advance their own agenda. The enlightened must practice deceit.
But, in this case, the dissonance would appear to be so obvious that even an untutored, unintellectual leader would notice. The current situation resembles the presidency of George W. Bush. Running for president Bush advocated a more “humble” U.S. foreign policy, but soon, and especially after 9/11, he dramatically changed course, raising doubts about the depth and sincerity of his previously expressed beliefs. Despite the original call for greater humility, Bush’s foreign policy and national security advisors were almost all strong hawks and interventionists, whether of the explicitly neoconservative type or, like Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, businessmen-politicians who found neoconservative rhetoric about universal principles a nice-sounding justification for saber-rattling and military assertiveness.
A 2003 book called America the Virtuous describes in-depth the neoconservative ideology of armed American global hegemony, which framed the foreign policy actions and rhetoric of the Bush administration. America was an “exceptional” nation. It was founded on universal principles belonging to all people, and America was called by history to bring freedom and democracy to the parts of the world not yet enjoying them. Neoconservative ideology was strikingly similar to that of the radicals of the French Revolution of 1789, the Jacobins. The French Jacobins had assigned to France the great missionary task of bringing “freedom, equality, and brotherhood” to the rest of mankind. The new, American Jacobins regarded the United States as the savior nation. America’s most immediate task was to clean up the Middle East. The neoconservatives had advocated war against Saddam Hussein long before 9/11.
But some people may object and point to how Trump disdains the Iraq war and “forever wars” in general. Those people will say that means he wants to put America first! These are the views that are so deeply offensive to neoconservative sensibilities, as is the president’s habit of calling himself a “nationalist.” So how could interventionism and military hawkishness possibly be sold to a person like him?
But suppose that the president’s stated foreign policy inclinations are more inchoate gut feelings than fully formed views. Assume further that he is intellectually not particularly alert or curious and that he lacks well-informed staff. Then making him accept unsympathetic advisors may not be as difficult as might be expected. Much can be accomplished by changing the labels for your own ideas and playing up whatever small agreements you have with the president. For key personages behind the scenes to weigh in on appointments can tip the balance.
Seizing upon the president’s fondness for “nationalism,” many American exceptionalists moved to refashion themselves, not by changing their minds but by changing appearances. The newly-minted nationalists adopted a method of bait and switch. They redefined nationalism and America First to mean the sort of thing that they favor but while soft-pedaling the interventionist implications of their ideas. To be a nationalist and a proponent of America First was now to be the same as to appreciate the exceptional nature of America, to demand “respect” for America, and to understand the need to defeat the enemies of American values.
Transforming themselves into nationalists while retaining their basic assumptions, these American exceptionalists attempted to co-opt and neutralize Trump-leaning nationalists. They sought alliances with the intellectually more inattentive and unsuspecting among them. The exceptionalists tried, with considerable success, to make the nationalists lower their guard and be more receptive to arguments for strong American leadership. A central objective was to gain admission to the Trump administration and to defuse the danger of so-called “isolationism.”
It is not surprising that in this project of dissimulation a major role would be played by admirers of Leo Strauss. Such individuals had played a key role in making the case for war against Iraq. This time the effort to influence the leader was greatly assisted by followers of the late Harry Jaffa, one of Strauss’s leading disciples. Several decades ago Jaffa founded the Claremont Institute in California. It was a few months ago at an award ceremony at the Claremont Institute that Mike Pompeo employed the just-mentioned bait and switch to co-opt nationalism. His theme was—where did we hear this before?—that America is “exceptional” and has a mission to resist evil in the world. America is, Pompeo said, “a place and history apart from normal human experience.” By virtue of its unique and great purpose, America is entitled to “respect” in the world, to dictate terms to “rogue” powers like Iran, and to confront nations like China and Russia that are “intent on eroding American power.”
Promoting themselves as nationalists, interventionists were back in business.
Another example of the paradoxical nature of the foreign policy of the Trump administration is its close association with the branch of evangelical Christianity that is most committed to intervention in the Middle East, the “dispensationalist” biblical literalism that is represented by Pastor John Hagee, which preaches unqualified support for Israel. Hagee gave a benediction at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem and has been a visitor to the White House.
Pompeo has professed similar religious beliefs and has blended them with standard neoconservative universalist themes that justify American assertiveness. Speaking in July 2019 to Christians United for Israel, Pompeo declared that America “is given to defend the spiritual values—the moral code—against the vast forces of evil that seek to destroy them.” As was the case with the new Jacobins, Pompeo is on the side of “virtue,” fighting evil in the world. As any good nationalist would, right?
A plausible explanation for the president’s many inconsistencies is that he simply does not know his own mind and is susceptible to manipulation by determined actors able to present their advice as consistent with his beliefs. Another possible explanation is that the president’s anti-interventionism was never much more than a rather cynical rhetorical posture and strategy for getting votes. Yet another possible explanation is that, especially on foreign policy and national security, the president is not really a free agent and must heed off-the-record advice.
Let it be stated explicitly that, whether taken individually or in combination, all of the possible explanations for the president’s incoherence are deeply troubling.
Claes G. Ryn is a professor of politics and founding director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at The Catholic University of America. His many books include America the Virtuous and The New Jacobinism: America as Revolutionary State.
Article originally published at The National Interest.
Why Congress is Not Serious About the War Powers in the Constitution
WILLIAM S. SMITH
Both the House and Senate resolutions to prohibit military attacks on Iran have little chance of restricting the ability of the executive branch to do so. While the House resolution is designed to trigger the authority of the decades old War Powers Act, the executive branch will certainly ignore it, while the Senate resolution will certainly be killed by a presidential veto. This is all kabuki theatre. On war powers, the Constitution is now a dead letter, and the United States is no longer a republic but an imperial power.
This sad reality could not have been made more clear when the defense secretary scolded lawmakers for considering a debate on war powers. The Constitution is simply an annoyance to members of the military industrial complex. Archaic documents, we are implicitly told, should not dictate critical national security policy that calls for decisive action and dispatch. The problem is not that the Constitution is vague about war powers. The problem is that the executive branch actively chooses to ignore it because it is inconvenient, while Congress acquiesces because lawmakers want no part of the very tricky business of war or in accepting blame for mistakes.
The Framers were clear in their intent to grant the power to initiate war with the legislative branch. The power to start a war cannot be given to the president, James Madison said, because “the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man,” and “war is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.” As commander in chief, the president may legally act without Congress to defend against an attack on the United States, but mounting offensive operations requires legislative approval.
Even in cases of limited war, the Constitution contains the little known marque and reprisal clause that requires limited military actions taken by the government or private citizens to be approved by Congress. Thomas Jefferson explained that even lower level hostilities must have legislative approval because “the making of a reprisal is a very serious thing” that is “considered an act of war and never failed to produce it in the case of a nation able to make war.” Because of the potential consequences of killing a military leader of an adversary nation, even limited acts of war require legislative sanction because they very well could become bigger wars.
For the military industrial complex, including its branch in Congress, these requirements are inconvenient. So what? The Constitution is designed to increase inefficiency for the sake of liberty. No one wants to give a known criminal an expensive laborious trial and extend a variety of due process protections, but this is what is necessary in our freedom loving republic.
The intent of the Framers on war powers places many Republicans in an odd position. Many are originalists when it comes to abortion, the Second Amendment, the death penalty, and a host of other issues. When it comes to war powers, however, they see “penumbras” and other “emanations” that refract thel intent of the Framers. After all, they say, the world has changed, and war can come in an instant. Regarding war powers, many conservatives see the Constitution the way progressives do as obsolete.
Democrats are no better. The House resolution seems motivated not by a genuine desire to reclaim the war powers, but by the political obsession with doing the opposite of what the president wants. If he declared the Big Mac the official hamburger of the country, Democrats would rush to the House Rules Committee with a resolution supporting the Whopper instead. We are living in serious times, but these are not serious people. The House could have reasserted itself by repealing or rewriting the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force. This would have signaled that lawmakers take their responsibility in the Constitution seriously, but still they have done nothing, and they will continue to do nothing on this.
The problem is not a lack of clarity in on war and peace. The problem is the Framers assumed that we would have, as Madison said, “temperate leaders” who would not allow the “tyranny of their own passions” to drive foreign policy. When American leaders do not wish to exercise their own granted authority, then the Constitution is simply a piece of parchment.
William Smith is a research fellow and the managing director at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship based at the Catholic University of America.
Article originally published at The Hill.
In Praise of Rome’s Citizen Soldiers
Killing for the Republic: Citizen Soldiers and the Roman Way of War, Steele Brand, Johns Hopkins University Press, 370 pages
Steele Brand is a historian who pays not even lip service to historical determinism. The Roman Republic collapsed, Brand says, because of deliberate choices made by “grasping, ambitious and amoral” leaders who took advantage of a debased “culture” that became more “perfectly suited to autocracy” than to freedom. Brand’s book should be read with care by Americans as our republic enters its twilight, as the ambitions of our political class replace the traditions of our ancestors.
Readers of many tastes will receive great enjoyment from Brand’s book. For those interested in general history, Brand provides a readable, engaging political history of the Roman Republic from the Roman kings to the rise of Augustus. He overlays a fascinating account of the development of Roman military strategy, tactics, weaponry, and chain of command, as well as providing detailed accounts of some of the most important battles of the Roman Republic, such as Sentinum, New Carthage, Pynda, Mutina, and Philippi. He also opens a window into the public spiritedness, or “civic virtue,” of the typical soldier of the Republic, who loved Rome, not out of greed or ambition, but because it protected his “little platoon,” his family and his farm. Fighting for the things these soldiers loved concretely made them particularly lethal.
The book, moreover, is stocked with well-selected quotes from great writers and historians of the time, such as Livy, Plutarch, Polybius, and Cicero, who were contemporaries of, or even participants in, the greatest events of the Republic. I have read all these authors, though I must admit that Brand gave me new appreciation for their writings by placing them firmly in their historical context.
What’s really not to be missed in the book are the last 100 pages, which provide a riveting account of the vicious political jockeying and outright civil wars that came in the wake of the assassination of Julius Caesar. While the historical events of the 1st century B.C. are not analogous to America’s current political turmoil, i.e. Donald Trump is not Julius Caesar, there are recognizable character flaws common to both the men who were willing to overthrow the Roman constitutional order and our current hubristic political class.
The Roman and American situations run parallel in that republics fall apart when the ambitions of amoral actors create such partisan rancor that they create competing claims of “legitimacy.” When political opponents become existential outlaws or are seen as wholly illegitimate, the nation slouches toward civil war. Here in America, magnanimity in politics is replaced by viciousness. And in the 1st century B.C., questions of political legitimacy put the Roman army into play: “At a time when Roman soldiers were being given conflicting information about who was legitimate, any commander became fair game for desertion, betrayal, or assassination if he behaved incompetently or failed to look out for their interests.”
Refreshingly, Brand is a partisan for the Roman Republic. He believes that a mixed regime, with both popular and aristocratic elements, is far preferable to vesting all political power in an emperor. And he believes that a citizen-soldier army that fights for its farms and families is preferable to a professional, mercenary army that fights for the booty dispensed by that emperor. Julius Caesar, he says, “deserves his place in history alongside other great generals like Cyrus, Alexander, Attila, Genghis Khan, Cortés, and Napoleon, but like them, he was nothing short of a monster.”
Brand ominously points out that most of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Thomas Jefferson, were fans of the great Roman republican figures, such as Brutus and Cicero, while Americans today are more likely to be fans of Caesar, who is “admired as an exemplar of courage, decisiveness, skill, genius, and good fortune.” It is somewhat disconcerting that the American imagination now prefers the one to the other.
Finally, while Brand acknowledges that the Roman Republic sometimes pushed other people around, its constant warfare seems not to have been a general symptom of imperialism but a historical necessity. “During the time frame in which Rome rose to power,” he writes, “international state systems were declining or totally absent, and anarchy and lawlessness were at their peak. Law, justice, order and peace were impossible to maintain in a Hobbesian world where every state was as militaristic as the next.”
Unlike post-Cold War America, where a foreign invasion is unthinkable, the Roman Republic had been viciously sacked by the Gauls and nearly destroyed by Hannibal in the Second Punic War. For most of the Republic’s existence, “forever war” was a necessity, not a choice; in the contemporary American case, forever war is not a necessity, but a choice.
That said, when the virtue of many of the leading figures in Rome became debauched, the presence of a large military was undoubtedly a factor in the demise of the Republic. When the Republic displayed a crisis of legitimacy, the army turned on itself and “these citizen-soldiers were no longer killing for the Republic. They were killing it.”
There is a parallel danger in contemporary America. We now have a gigantic military-intelligence-industrial complex that seems to question the legitimacy of a duly-elected president and is willing to scheme unconstitutionally for his demise. A large-scale politicization of our huge national security establishment would be an ominous development indeed. When the ethos of that national security community has degenerated from the nonpartisan statesmanship of a George Marshall to the scheming partisanship of a John Brennan, it is apparent that the recovery of genuine statesmanship is the only thing that can save us from the Roman Republic’s fate.
William S. Smith is research fellow and managing director at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at The Catholic University of America. His latest book is Democracy and Imperialism, published by the University of Michigan Press.
Article originally published at The American Conservative.
An Ingenious Way to Restore Constitutional War Authority
By WILLIAM S. SMITH • September 12, 2019
Congressional deference to the executive branch on the issues of war and peace has reached the point where some scholars have argued that the Constitution is simply no longer functioning. The framers of the Constitution would find the process by which an American president launches combat operations in Libya or Syria as unrecognizable.
Two brilliant law professors, Michael Glennon of Tufts University and Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore, have offered an ingenious remedy to the unchecked extent of executive branch war powers. In a recent post in Lawfare, Glennon, the former counsel at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Tiefer, the former acting general counsel of the House of Representatives, note that legislative procedures used to consider appropriations bills in the House weaken its ability to assert its war powers. They wrote that it is “no coincidence” that “control over warmaking has all but vanished at the same time that its power over the purse has devolved into an up or down vote on a single gargantuan appropriations bill, the contents of which are known to only a select few.”
As the authors point out, by legislating through continuing resolutions, members of the House have very little ability, for example, to deny the executive branch the funding for the war in Yemen. Lawmakers may vote against the continuing resolution on the grounds that it funds the Yemen war but with that vote, but they would then be voting to shut the federal government down and against all of the programs funded in the bill. A vote against the continuing resolution is simply howling at the moon.
Glennon and Tiefer provide an elegant solution to this ongoing legislative dilemma. They recommend that the rules of the House be amended so that any member would have the ability to raise a “point of order” against funding for any military operation that the House “has previously found, by simple resolution, requires authorization by Congress.”
Such a change would set up a simple process to deny funding for wars not previously authorized by the House. First, the House would pass a simple resolution, unrelated to and prior to the continuing resolution, stating that, for example, Congress did not authorize the war in Yemen. Congress successfully passed such as a resolution on Yemen earlier this year that was later vetoed by the president. Then, with the rule changes in place, if the House were to consider an appropriations bill or a continuing resolution that contained funding for the war in Yemen, any member of the House could raise a point of order against the bill and block it.
Just the presence of such a procedural option would likely deter the Senate from advocating for a continuing resolution with funding for wars where the House was on record as objecting. Moreover, a veto threat would be almost laughable, as the president would be threatening to shut down the government in a situation in which the House was virtually certain to block any bill containing the war funding. A veto threat would be hollow, as any single House member opposed to the war funding would hold the stronger cards. The proposal by Glennon and Tiefer would restore formidable congressional authority in issues of war and peace.
For the proposal to work, however, the House leadership and Speaker Nancy Pelosi would need to be serious about reigning in presidential war powers. Even if the House were to amend the rules to allow any member to offer a point of order against war funding, points of order would need to be allowed when the House actually considered the continuing resolution. Without House leadership support, any House rule change as recommended by Glennon and Tiefer would be a dead letter.
Pelosi has in the past argued that the unique authority of the House to appropriate funds made it the constitutional equal to the president on foreign policy. With the proposal by Glennon and Tiefer now on the table, we have the chance to see if she is serious about this critical issue.
William Smith is a research fellow and the managing director at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of the newly published book “Democracy and Imperialism.”
Article originally published at The Hill.