The week before America is to celebrate the 238 Anniversary of its Independence Day, the world learned House Speaker John Boehner has decided to engage the White House in a Constitutional showdown by suing the Obama Administration over its ongoing unilateral use of Executive Power. On the one hand, the Right argues President Obama is legislating from the bully pulpit by selectively enforcing, changing or creating laws. On the other hand, the Left argues Republicans are impeding government to point the President is forced to test the limits of his Executive Powers. Although there are incidences where it is likely the Supreme Court will rule against the Obama Administration, it is important to recognize Congress did invite this inevitable showdown by makings itself increasingly irrelevant and slowly legislating its Constitutional power to the President over the past half-century out of convenience as Congress has increasingly been unable to act in a timely manner.
Certainly, the legal path is both a costly and time-consuming one, but America’s Founding Fathers created an independent judiciary, so government could rise above the politics of the day when facing an unbreakable stalemate. Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict whether or not what decisions are handed down will allow our political system to function better, but having the courts resolve a number of ongoing issues is apparently something the political system needs. At the very least, taking the legal route forces Republicans and Democrats to change tactics and, hopefully, soon discover the only winning option involves cooperation and compromise. Given the many grievances our bipolar political system has amassed over the past few years and the willingness of our Supreme Court to take on cases with far-reaching effects, this means the Supreme Court will likely be very active for some time just dealing with cases inspired by political deadlock.
Furthermore, the Court has already ruled against the Obama Administration for its inappropriate use of recess appointments while it has sought to reign in police powers by recognizing the right to privacy when it comes to cell phones, which hints at future decisions that will modernize the interpretation of privacy rights, i.e. Fourth Amendment, for the digital age. At the same time, an Oregon Federal Court deemed the inability of individuals to challenge their inclusion on the so-called “no-fly list” as unconstitutional, because it fails to honor the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. It is, of course, ironic that the US government has been fighting an updated understanding of our privacy rights to include our digital footprint as the US government is trusted to protect the rights of American citizens, thus it should be fostering evenhanded treatment of all Americans with the use of all authority when foreign nations and private entities do not as it did during the Civil Rights era.
Beyond addressing our government’s failure to balance national security interests with civil liberties, the courts have been ruling in favor of those seeking to legalize gay marriage and it is likely the Supreme Court will rule in line with those decisions. That said, the Supreme Court is showing a preference toward interpreting the rights of all “individuals,” which the Justices erroneously declared corporations to be individuals in the Citizens United case; therefore, the Supreme Court must find a way to balance the First Amendment rights of those who view legalized gay marriage as an affront to their religious traditions and those couples who feel their Fourteenth Amendment rights are being violated. Moreover, we can expect the Supreme Court over the next few years to make more and more decisions that will affect our political system and society in very significant ways. It seems the American People will be relying on Third Branch of government as counterbalances the exercise of Executive power and the dysfunction of the Legislature.
What is Putin doing?
Today’s ally can easily be tomorrow’s enemy while there is a stark difference between opponents who can be used as assets to achieve broader, long-term goals and outright liabilities. Because Russian President Vladimir Putin has always preferred to suppress dissent and the voices of opponents, he may not be able to fully appreciate this statement. The pro-Russian militants in Ukraine may serve Putin’s interests today, but their destabilizing and rebellious nature mean they will become a liability very soon.
In the saga that is the Ukraine Crisis, the International Community is preparing to initiate far more damaging sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the unrest, yet the West is pausing in hopes that Russian rhetoric favoring peace in Ukraine will translate into genuine effort. Although the summer is probably the optimal time to garner support for sanctions, after all, Europeans will be depending on a predictable flow of Russian natural gas this coming winter, the fact Putin’s involvement in the Ukraine Crisis is murky means Western action must follow his action. That said, compelling evidence demonstrating Russian martial support of militants does justify sanctions.
Aside from the fact that Russia is a major world power, Putin’s propaganda campaign to shape his involvement in Ukraine as heroic prevents Putin from being outright pinned as the antagonist in the eyes of many. Where actions like canceling authorization for the use of military force in Ukraine, calling for an extension of a seize fire, and pushing for direct talks with insurgents could be a sign that Putin is trying to end the Crisis, though it would help if he started arresting “Russian volunteers” who crossing the border and engaging in militant activities. That said, Putin’s gestures could also be a means of disarming Western support for the Ukrainian government, which Putin is trying to demonize, as he bolsters rebel forces. If the current situation is simply an extension of the deceit he used to acquire Crimea, Putin is not helping; he is creating long-term liabilities for Ukraine, Russia, and himself.
The growth of a forest is measured in decades to centuries; whereas, the burning of a forest is measured in days to hours. This truth is certainly playing out in Iraq as global players with vested interests in the little Middle Eastern country rich in oil and division struggle to respond to mounting militant threats and the near collapse of Iraq’s national government. While Iran and Syria are already engaged militarily in Iraq, Sunni-dominated US allies like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey are positioning themselves to respond with force should the situation spiral out of control. As such, there is a strong possibility that a much broader conflict based on sectarian division is forming across the region, which has been experiencing massive civil unrest and armed strife since the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions began.
Truth be told, saving the Maliki-dominated government collation, or even the national Iraq government as an institution, is not in the vital national interests of the US and our allies, especially given the increasingly exclusive, ill-democratic nature of Maliki’s rule. In Iraq, our interests revolve around preventing the propagation of globalized terrorism and encouraging the propagation of human rights, basic civil liberties, and stability in line with international norms. Our broader interests in the region are rooted in fostering stability and cooperation between nation-states by creating an environment where the nations of the Middle East feel compelled to turn to open diplomacy with each other instead of war when conflicts arise, plus our economic interests in oil.
Looking at the current Iraq Crisis, the greatest hazard associated with using military force in Iraq, most likely airstrikes, is the US accidentally siding against traditional allies as well as the majority of Muslims, i.e. Sunnis, in favor of Iraqi-Iranian Shiites. At the same time, allowing Iraq to collapse into chaos and/or bolstering Syrian and Iranian influence in Iraq by failing to check their actions cannot be permitted. Although a long-term anti-terrorism campaign, versus an anti-insurgent campaign against those waging civil war, is necessarily, limited military intervention in Iraq by the US is likely to have little immediate impact on the progress of ISIS extremists, aside from preventing them from acquiring more machines of war. Meanwhile, a US troop presence would simply mean putting US troops under siege instead of Iraqi troops to protect the current dysfunctional, self-serving government.
Furthermore, if Iraq is going to eventually splinter into smaller nation-states due to internal and external pressure, it will do so whether or not the US acts. Consequently, the best role for the US is to engage the Iraq Crisis as part of a broader regional approach. This means engaging in far more open, far more intense diplomatic exchanges with regional players. Even though the situations is presently driven by a security threat, it is one that is being defined by sectarian tensions, thus the US must work through our Sunni allies to address Sunni interests in Iraq, as well as the region, and the Maliki government, which is also an indirect way of involving Iran, to address Shiite interests. At the very least, we need to find ways of discouraging regional players from supporting militant extremists while they need to start supporting reasonable, moderates who can stand up to the extremists.
Rationalizing drone strikes
Thanks to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan releasing the so-called “Drone Memo,” or at least a heavily censored version of the document, the American People can now see part of what should have always been a public document. This memo was supposed to clearly argue the US President has the legal authority to authorize targeted killings against terrorists, including US citizens. If successful, it should have offered legal protection for those ordering and carrying out drone strikes while providing narrow, well-defined guidelines for when drone strikes can be used against a particular individual.
Unfortunately, the document seems to be a patchwork of rationales, including the citation of “Al Qaida law,” that was engineered to shield those ordering drone strikes from culpability for potential wrongdoings. If this was a legitimate argument favoring “targeted killings,” there should have been no need to hide it from the world. In fact, allowing the American People to review the document would have afforded it greater legitimacy while allowing public debate the opportunity to reshape the policy would have forced national security officials to improve the document. Just as the US Constitution is open to the public, along with all of our laws, the Drone Memo should have been public as it is an interpretation of publicly displayed laws.
Once again, the Egyptian Judicial system, supported by the highly influential military, is delivering verdicts that are shocking the International Community. This time around, an Egyptian judge sentenced both Egyptian and foreign journalists working for Al-Jazeera to seven years in prison, while handing down ten-year sentences for two journalists outside of Egypt, without any reasonable evidence supporting claims that these individuals were supporting terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is deemed to be a terrorist group by the Egyptian government.
The military’s targeting of these journalists is largely seen as part of an overall campaign to suppress dissent. Unfortunately, it seems the Arab Spring revolution that forced President Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011 is still failing as it has simply replaced one military leader for another. Just as newly elected President El-Sisi has pledged to “correct the mistakes of the past,” this sham trial is a very disconcerting. Unless El-Sisi is willing and able to take on his military to break its influence over the Egyptian political system, which means he must also be able to fulfill Egyptian national security interests, the mistakes of the past will not be corrected.
Given the point of the military’s effort is to suppress dissent to prevent civil unrest and militant activities, engaging in this type of suppression in a country where a People is now more than willing to sacrifice their lives for their freedoms and other interests seems very counterproductive. As for supporters of the Egyptian government, which includes the United States, this ongoing crackdown by the Egyptian government is certain to provoke increasing public backlash across the region, thus the world must find ways to help stabilize Egypt while no longer empowering the Egyptian military to suppress the Egyptian People.
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