Disrespecting the American Imperial Presidency

NOVEMBER 21 ,2016

BY MATT PEPPE

(Credit: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera/ flickr)

When the dust settled on the Nov. 8 election, we learned that a completely unpredictable, egomaniacal, narcissistic buffoon would inherit the White House and the vast powers that go along with it. This deeply offended many people who see Donald Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric as “unpresidential.” Liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow summed up this view: “I respect the presidency; I do not respect this president-elect.” That the president-elect should not be respected is a given. But why should we respect the presidency?

The Imperial Presidency of the United States has evolved over the last century to the point that the executive holds certain powers that can be considered dictatorial. Arguably, the most consequential decision in politics is to wage war. The Constitution specifically reserves this right for Congress. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, directs the wars that Congress declares. However, starting with Truman’s intervention in the Korean War in 1950 and continuing with invasions of Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombings of dozens more countries, the President’s ability to unilaterally initiate war with a sovereign nation has been normalized. Congress has not declared war since 1941 despite the fact the U.S. military has intervened in nearly every corner of the world.

In recent years, George W. Bush assumed the power to kidnap, torture, and assassinate any individual, anywhere in the world, at any time, without even a pretense of due process. Upon replacing Bush, Barack Obama legitimized Bush’s kidnapping and torture (by refusing to prosecute the perpetrators or provide recourse to the victims) while enthusiastically embracing the power to assassinate at will. Noam Chomsky said Obama has trashed the 800-year-old Magna Carta, which King John of England would have approved of.

Can there be anything more dictatorial than the power of a single individual to kill and make war at will? While American presidents thankfully do not have the power to unilaterally impose taxes, pass legislation, or incarcerate without charges inside U.S. borders, the illegitimate authority they do possess to carry out unrestrained violence across the world is unquestionably one feature of a dictator.

There has not been a single American president since World War II that has not exceeded his constitutional authority by committing crimes that would meet the standard by which officials were convicted and executed at the Nuremberg trials.

Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to imprison Japanese Americans in concentration camps was a flagrant violation of the Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

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Truman’s firebombing of Tokyo, nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and invasion of Korea violated provisions of multiple treaties that are considered the “supreme law of the land” per Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Eisenhower’s use of the CIA to overthrow democratically elected presidents in Iran and Guatemala, as well as the initiation of a terrorist campaign against Cuba, violated the UN Charter, another international treaty that the Constitution regards as the supreme law of the land.

Kennedy was guilty of approving the creation of a mercenary army to invade Cuba, as well as covert warfare in Vietnam. Johnson massively escalated U.S. military involvement in Vietnam with the introduction of ground troops, which he fraudulently justified to the public through misrepresentation of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Succeeding Johnson, Nixon waged a nearly genocidal air campaign against not only Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos, killing hundreds of thousands of people, destroying ecosystems across Indochina, and leaving an unfathomable amount of unexploded ordnance, which continues to kill and maim hundreds of people each year.

Ford covertly supported the South African invasion of Angola and overtly supported the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Carter continued support of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, as well as providing military support to military dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador. Reagan oversaw the creation and operation of a terrorist army in Nicaragua, sponsored military dictatorships throughout Central America, and directly invaded Grenada.

Bush the Elder invaded Panama and Iraq. Clinton oversaw sanctions in Iraq that killed as many as 1 million people, carried out an air war from 15,000 feet against Serbia, and bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that produced medications for half the country. Bush the Lesser invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama continued both of those wars, as well as dramatically expanding the drone assassination program in as many as seven countries.

So I beg to differ with Blow and anyone else who claims the presidency deserves respect. Any institution or position that permits such illegal and immoral actions unchecked should be eradicated and replaced with some alternative that does not allow such concentration of power in the hands of a single person.

Liberal Clinton defenderMatt Yglesias argues that from a historical perspective, Trump is uniquely dangerous. “(P)ast presidents,” Yglesias writes, “have simply been restrained by restraint. By a belief that there are certain things one simply cannot try or do.”

It is hard to take such vacuous proclamations with a straight face. As we have seen, every single American president since at least WWII has engaged in serious violations of international and domestic law to cause death, destruction and misery across the world, from murdering individuals without due process to unleashing two nuclear bombs on civilian populations in a defeated country that was seeking to surrender.

When Trump assumes the presidency, he will inherit a frightening surveillance/military/incarceration apparatus that includes a targeted killing program; a vast NSA domestic and international spying network; a death squad (the Joint Special Operations Command); and an extralegal system for indefinite kidnapping and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

Partisans see a problem only when the presidency is in the “wrong” hands. If Obama is at the helm, liberals are fine with unconstitutional mass surveillance or killing an American citizen without charge or trial every now and then. Conservatives trusted Bush to warrantlessly surveill Americans, but were outraged at the Snowden revelations.

Principled opponents recognize that no one should be trusted with illegitimate authority. The hand-wringing and hyperventilation by liberals about the dangers of a Trump presidency ring hollow and hypocritical.

American presidents long ago became the equivalent of elected monarchs, beyond the democratic control of the those they purportedly serve. The occupant of the office is able to substitute his own judgments and whims for a universally applicable set of laws and limits on the exercise of power. It is what Dolores Vek describes as “actually existing fascism.” Both parties have contributed to it, the media has normalized it, and the public has accepted its creation and continued existence without rebelling against it. It’s time to stop treating the presidency itself with respect and start actively delegitimizing it.

Donald Trump

WRITER


Donald Trump and his Zionist partners in crime


new york times 0b1e2

“Dear me,” Vespasian is supposed to have joked on his deathbed, “I must be turning into a god.” If only the dying emperor had been Israeli, and had enjoyed the services of the New York Times! In the vapid prose of Isabel Kershner’s obituary in the Paper of Record last week, even Israel’s thuggish ex-spymaster, Meir Dagan, emerges as an angel of peace.

According to Kershner, the late General Dagan – the same man who, on his first day as Mossad chief, urged his subordinates to “eat the brains” of their enemies – “publicly criticized [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, over their policy of preparing for a military option against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Well, yes – Dagan did allow that bombing Iran would be “a stupid idea.” And amid the feverish militarism that is today’s Israeli politics, I suppose one welcomes even a small dose of sanity.

But if, as Kershner also claims, Dagan had already played a key role in deploying the Stuxnet computer virus against Iran’s nuclear centrifuges – not to mention equally sensitive devices in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and the U.S. – Dagan himself used “a military option,” a fact curiously omitted from Kershner’s hymn of praise. In fact, the Pentagon has publicly suggestedthat a cyber attack on such a scale would constitute an act of war if committed against the United States. By that standard, Dagan was literally a war criminal.

But why fuss over details? After all, Dagan probably earned the title “war criminal” long before trying his hand as a nuclear saboteur. Under the leadership of Ariel Sharon in the 1970s, he headed a “special unit” in Gaza that fired into crowds of protesting civilians, deported whole families of suspected resistance fighters, and bulldozed its way through rows of refugee camp housing, leaving thousands homeless. Dagan also played a key role in Israel’s bloody invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Kershner mentions these episodes, but only to say that Dagan’s job in Gaza was “to combat militancy” and that he “retired…in 1995 with the rank of major general.” Dear me. Kurt Waldheim – whose “hidden complicity in Nazi war crimes” made it into the first sentence of hisobituary in the Times in 2007 – must be wondering when he, too, will be turned into a god.

Kershner even glosses over Dagan’s record as an assassin. The murder of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in 2010 – Kershner calls it an “operation” – was widely blamed on Mossad, but Kershner, focusing on the “almost comical disguises” worn by the killers, can barely restrain a giggle at the way this international crime proved “embarrassing” to Dagan (who presumably ordered it) when part of his hit squad got caught on the hotel’s security cameras. Incidentally, Kershner’s nice-girl tone shifts abruptly when she mentions Hamas, which she calls “the Palestinian Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.” Considering that Israel’s current Justice Minister has (typically) applauded the murder of Palestinian mothers on the grounds that they will otherwise raise “more little snakes,” Israel’s government might be described as “an Israeli Jewish-supremacist militant group that controls all of Palestine” – that is, if even-handed descriptive reporting were the rule at the Times. I am not holding my breath.

Still, some inconsistencies are hard to miss. It wasn’t long ago that Samir Kuntar, after his assassination in Syria, was being cursed in the Israeli press as a “terror chief” – a description the Times has never gainsaid, even though Kuntar, unlike Dagan, publicly regretted the “terrible mistake” of past attacks on civilians and said he wanted to stop the “long, vicious cycle, which cost many victims on both sides.”

It’s inexcusable (if commonplace) for the same newspaper to sanitize the record of one of the region’s more notorious and unrepentant terrorists – just because he had the good fortune to die an Israeli Jew.

And Kershner’s propaganda looks even worse when we realize how readily her hypocrisy dovetails with Dagan’s own. “During all the years of my service,” Dagan tearfully told a Holocaust Remembrance Day audience in 2010, “I carried with me from place to place the photograph of my grandfather taken a moment before he was murdered by the Nazis. I swore that that would never happen again.”

But of course it did happen again – with Dagan’s eager participation. As brigade commander and Mossad chief, Dagan repeatedly inflicted on victims of Israel’s occupation what Hitler’s forces once did to his grandfather: brutality for brutality, humiliation for humiliation. Does a crime become a virtue when committed on behalf of “our” people? No doubt a Nazi would think so. A Jew shouldn’t.

WRITER

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