by Peter A. Belmont / 2010-11-08
© 2010 Peter Belmont
The US Constitution does not make the president the chief legislator (apart from his veto power). It also does not make him chief of any political party or faction. He is not required to seek re-election.
The Constitution does, however, make him the USA’s chief administrator, commander of USA’s armed forces, and director of USA’s foreign policy.
This is enough to get quite a lot done which, in fact, needs to be done.
As a result of our recent mid-term election, the Congress is likely to be grid-locked except on matters where a source of “big electoral money” has persuaded Congresspersons of both parties to dance to its tune (“who pays the piper calls the tune”).
What, then, is the president to do?
If he can cut himself loose from the demands of an attempt at re-election and declare himself to be president of all Americans and not the head of the Democratic party—either for legislative or for electoral purposes—he can behave as the Constitution imagined a president would behave and, in fact, get a number of good things done.
In general, he can spend a good deal more time speaking to the American people, explaining the situation in which the world and the USA find themselves today and his ideas for what the USA should do next, and less time trying to do ordinary “politics”.
As an explainer-general, he could deal with global warming in a way he cannot do if he feels tied to the demands of political parties and “big money”.
As an explainer-general, he could explain the international humanitarian law that came into being after the Second World War, explain how Israel has for 43 years in major ways been violating it, and explain how (and why) the UN should act to end this lawlessness. Needless to say, he cannot do this if he feels tied to the demands of political parties and “big money”.
In this connection, see: Why Israel would never evacuate settlements without considerable outside pressure..
As an explainer-general, he could explain the economy and our government’s debt (“national debt”), annual federal deficit, and their relationship to sources of money (taxes). He could trace the progress of America’s wealth into the pockets of the top 1% of American earners and compare the taxation schemes of past years with those of today, noting the steeply graduated marginal tax rates of the past and remarking on how much marginal tax rates of that sort might do (or not do) to eliminate the annual federal deficit and to reduce the enormous federal debt. Needless to say, he cannot do this if he feels tied to the demands of political parties and “big money”.
He might point out to Americans that the costs of our large (and, in my opinion, over-the-top unreasonably enormous) military and “intelligence” establishments—including employment costs both for federal employees (such as CIA and armed forces) and for others (such as contractors and mercenaries), procurement costs for weapons development and use, and also including the part of our national debt which has arisen from borrowing to pay for present and past military endeavors—are part of “big government” which have had almost universal support from all political factions, even those who decry big government and deficit spending, and are part of the problem of annual deficit and national debt—and require taxes to support it, whether it remain huge as it is today or becomes smaller over time.
In terms of war, he can explain why—at this time—he can see no circumstances that would justify either a USA or an Israeli attack on Iran.
People who read the essays of this blog (123pab.com) know what I recommend the president do in regard to Israel’s occupations of Syrian and Palestinian lands. See, for example, a proposal for international BDS action at the level of nation states.
I will repeat it here, because it is the problem with which (after global warming and other population-related environmental problems) I am most emotionally involved.
Israel has occupied Syrian and Palestinian lands since June 1967. Occupation (military occupation, belligerent occupation) is not itself illegal, although these occupations may by now have lasted so long as to create de facto annexation by Israel —which would be contrary to Israel’s undertakings upon joining the UN and would be contrary to the rule, now a rule of international law, which prohibits the acquisition of territory by use or threat of armed violence (see UN Res. 242)).
However, whether or not belligerent occupation when carried on for 43 years is illegal per se, Israel’s behavior at the time of the capture of these territories (for instance, the ethnic cleansing of Syria’s Golan Heights) and Israel’s behavior since that capture (settlement and wall building, seizure of land for non-military purposes, etc.) is clearly illegal and has been so described in numerous authoritative places.
Faced with so much illegality, the president should explain to the American people why the continuation of Israel’s occupation is contrary to American interests, contrary to every principle of human rights, a major blemish on the USA’s reputation as a democratic country with pretensions to defend human rights in the world.
He should encourage the nations to begin a program of sanctions against Israel whose limited but vital purpose is to persuade Israel to  remove all Israeli settlers from all occupied territories,  demolish all settlement buildings and Israelis-only highways (pursuant to UNSC 465),  remove the wall it has built in the West Bank pursuant to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice dated July 9, 2004,  lift the siege of Gaza except as to a blockade as to military weapons, and  supply Gaza with an adequate supply of potable water.
I am not alone in this opinion.
Even sadder is that the US actually has immense power in this situation and need do very little to deploy it. All it has to do to alter the entire power balance in the Middle East – in the interest of its own desperate situation in Afghanistan and its credibility as a world power – is sit back and abstain in the UN, leaving Israel to face the monumental international opprobrium that is brewing around its multitudinous human rights violations and sins against international security wait-we-are-giving-who-20-f-35-stealth-attack-jets-for-what
These sanctions should not be regarded and should not be described as a comment on Israel’s legitimacy as a nation-state, but should carefully be described as a temporary—but possibly gradually increasingly severe— program aimed at compelling Israel to comply with International law.
If such sanctions should happen to impel Israel to make peace overtures towards the Palestinians and/or the Syrians which were acceptable to those parties, all well and good. The sanctions, however, should be aimed only at enforcing international humanitarian law.
If President Obama could bring himself to overcome the shackles that normal American politics, hopes for re-election, and hopes to lead a glorious legislative program inevitably occasion, he might get these things done.
Otherwise, he will remain a prisoner as surely as he has been for the last two years. Had he seen this clearly before his election, he could have had four years to try to make significant changes. Now he has two years, and time is fast running out.
If he can act as a statesman, he might be re-elected. If he acts as a prisoner of politics-as-usual, he stand little chance.