Unilateral Foreign Policy or Unitary Executive; Both Undermine Democracy
By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor
Friday 24 August 2007
When you operate alone, you operate at great risk. It's one thing if you are the only individual who will suffer the consequences of your hubris. It's a much greater problem when your country and its democracy pay the price for your arrogance.
The Bush administration's foreign policy of imposing American unilateralism through blatant disregard of multinational organizations and agreements will cause American presidents, diplomats and average citizens to suffer the consequences of these actions for years to come. On the national scene, operating as a unitary executive, as though the president possesses all of the executive power at the expense of the legislative branch, takes America dangerously close to a dictatorship.
As technology such as the Internet brings citizens of the world closer together and transforms isolated economies into globalized economies that require alliances and cooperation, the Bush administration chooses to operate unilaterally. Under the pretext of protecting "American interests" and fighting "the war on terror," the Bush administration is imposing its will on other countries for short-term political gain, with no appreciation or sensitivity to the long-term damage it has caused.
In 1997, the US and other industrialized nations agreed on the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. In 2001, the Bush administration decided unilaterally that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. The European Union, the United Nations and other parties to the agreement felt this grave error in judgment tarnished US credibility around the globe.
Also in 2001, the Bush administration notified Russia that the US would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This treaty was negotiated almost 30 years ago with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. It specifically forbade testing and deployment of ballistic missile defense systems. President Bush said in the White House Rose Garden, "I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks." (Was this the precursor to the administration's plan to deploy missile defense sites in Eastern Europe?)
In 2002, the Bush administration decided to not take part in the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. This decision ended US participation in an agreement signed in 1998 to create the world's first permanent tribunal to prosecute war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity. (Was this the precursor to President Bush exempting himself and others in his administration from being retroactively prosecuted in US courts under the War Crimes Act of 1996?)
In 2003, the United States led the invasion of Iraq, committing what has become known to many as the greatest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States. President Bush declared the objective of the invasion was "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD's), to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and free the Iraqi people." It has now been accepted that the WMD's did not exist and Saddam Hussein was not involved in supporting terrorism. To date, 3,707 US troops have died in Iraq.
According to The New York Times, McClatchy Newspapers and other sources, the Bush administration is preparing to declare that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is a foreign terrorist organization. This escalation of tensions with Iran is concerning US allies in Europe and the Middle East. Once again, US unilateral foreign policy is wreaking havoc in the region. Many wonder if the Bush administration is laying the groundwork for a military confrontation with Iran.
According to the Guardian Observer, "... Iranian President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad audaciously signaled his determination to counter US global power ... by meeting his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in open defiance of Washington's wishes. Addressing a joint White House press conference last week, Mr. Bush said: "I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force." Karzai flatly contradicted him by describing Iran as "a helper and a solution." Who are we to believe about what is best for Afghanistan: President Bush or Afghan President Karzai?
As the Bush administration continues to vilify Iran's president, Ahmadinejad denounced a US plan to unilaterally deploy missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. Last week Ahmadinejad, the leaders of Russia, China and four Central Asian countries attended the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. According to The Associated Press, "Russian President Vladimir Putin told the summit that "any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally are hopeless" and called for "strengthening a multi-polar international system that would ensure equal security and opportunities for all countries."
When you operate alone, you operate at risk. The United States needs to understand that some of its so-called "villains" are not viewed as such on the world stage. Individuals such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Russian President Putin and Venezuelan President Chavez are garnering increased international support as they stand up to the US and its quest to become the sole imperial power.
On the domestic front, the framers of the Constitution designed a system of "checks and balances" to limit the powers of the executive and protect the minority interests in the country against tyranny of the majority, yet the Bush administration operates as a unitary executive. This theory of the unitary executive argues for strict limits on the power of Congress to divest the president of control of the executive branch. This is in direct contradiction with the concept of checks and balances.
Since taking office, President Bush has added "signing statements" to more than 750 laws passed by Congress. By attaching these "signing statements" to bills that he feels conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution, the president selectively determines which laws he will enforce and which he will not. Attaching a signing statement to a bill as he signs it is similar to a line item veto.
As we look at the illegal invasion of Iraq, the firing of the US attorneys, the Scooter Libby commutation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's misleading testimony in the Senate, warrantless wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus, torture, extraordinary renditions, and members of the Bush administration's failure to respond to Congressional subpoenas, one must ask what has happened to Congressional oversight and checks and balances? Where is the outrage from the American people; where are the Democrats; where has this oversight - a pillar of our democracy - gone?
There has always been a power struggle between the three branches of government; that's by design. There's an inherent friction between the executive, legislative and judicial branches - the logic being that government is not static, it is dynamic, and you need this friction in order to deal with changing times and changing interests.
One real problem in our current circumstance is that most of the issues or events that the current administration is using as rationale to support its need for expanded powers have been created by the administration to serve its own ends. There were no WMD's, and there was no attempt by Saddam to buy yellowcake. If the Bush administration had not illegally invaded Iraq, there would not be insurgents killing thousands of American soldiers. This so-called war on terror is a marketing ploy to scare Americans into believing that the world is against us, enabling the Bush administration to force through draconian measures to concentrate power in the executive branch at the expense of the civil rights and civil liberties of the American people.
Whether implementing foreign policy on the world stage or domestic policy within the confines of our borders, unilateral foreign policy and the unitary executive damage the democratic process. When you operate alone, you operate at great risk. If this president's attempt to dramatically consolidate power goes unchallenged, our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost.