by Jacob G. Hornberger
Would someone please tell me what limits constrain President Obama in foreign affairs?
A dictator is a government ruler with omnipotent powers, one who has no constitutional or legislative constraints on his powers. Operating through his military, paramilitary, intelligence, and police forces, he can do whatever he chooses to do. He can use his forces, which loyally follow his orders, to attack, arrest, spy, kidnap, torture, rape, abuse, or kill. It’s that principle — omnipotent power on the part of the ruler — that defines the dictatorships in the Middle East. It’s what defines dictatorship, period.
Yet, doesn’t President Obama exercise omnipotent powers in foreign affairs? Operating through his military and paramilitary forces, which loyally follow his commands, the president has the power to invade and occupy any nation on earth. He has the power to kidnap any person in the world and send him to prison camps located in various parts of the world. Or he can send prisoners to foreign dictatorships with orders to secure information or a confession through torture. He can spy on and monitor people overseas. He can impose sanctions and embargoes on recalcitrant foreign regimes, even if such meaures kill thousands of innocent people in the process.
All this the president can do on his own initiative. In foreign affairs, President Obama can do whatever he wants, and he has the most powerful and loyal military and paramilitary forces in history to carry out his commands.
Of course, the president doesn’t do these things personally, but no dictator personally carries out or enforces his own dictates. That’s what thousands of bureaucratic personnel, including those in the military, are all about. They exist to faithfully and loyally carry out the orders of their boss. That’s the purpose of the U.S. military, the NSA, and the CIA: to serve the president by loyally and obediently carrying out whatever orders he issues.
Consider Libya, for example, another country that has never attacked the United States. The president will soon order his military to attack the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi, killing countless Libyans in the process.
The military will faithfully and loyally carry out the president’s orders and ask Americans to “support the troops” in the president’s war against the Libyans. Not one single officer or enlisted man will refuse the president’s orders because they all know what will happen if they do. Those who refuse will be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, abused, and severely punished by their superior officers.
Military personnel will convince themselves that by following the president’s orders, they are fulfilling their oath to support and defend the Constitution, protecting “national security,” and defending the rights and freedoms of the American people.
I repeat: What constitutional and legislative constraints exist on the president’s powers in foreign affairs? Aren’t such powers as omnipotent as those exercised by the biggest dictators in history?
Is an American dictator in foreign affairs what our American ancestors envisioned when they brought the federal government into existence with the Constitution?
On the contrary, their aim was the precise opposite. That’s why the Constitution delegated the power to declare war to Congress, not the president. The Framers made it so the president was prohibited from waging war without first securing a declaration of war from Congress.
Our American ancestors also sent a powerful message to the president with the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments: that he is prohibited from searching people’s homes, businesses, and personal effects without a judicially issued warrant based on probable cause; that he is prohibited from imposing cruel and unusual punishments on people; that he is prohibited from denying due process of law to anyone; and that he is prohibited from denying anyone the right to a jury trial and to a speedy trial.
In other words, our ancestors envisioned a president whose powers were limited, not only on a domestic basis — that is, not only here within the United States — but also on a foreign basis. They opposed dictatorship, period.
The president as dictator in foreign affairs has come into existence as part and parcel of the turn that the U.S. government took toward empire. That was when America abandoned its role as a limited-government, constitutional republic. That was when U.S. presidents began ignoring constitutional restraints on power in foreign affairs. That was when the courts began declining to enforce the Constitution in foreign affairs. That was when the American people began deferring to the authority of the president, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.
In his Fourth of July speech to Congress, John Quincy Adams foretold what would happen to America should she become an empire: “The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. She might become the dictatress of the world.”
What’s the solution for presidential dictatorship in foreign affairs? The solution is obvious: a dismantling of America’s military empire and a restoration of a limited-government constitutional republic, along with strict constitutional and legislative constraints on the power of the president, together with an independent judiciary with the courage and fortitude willing to enforce them. Most important, as our ancestors taught us, the solution necessitates an aroused citizenry whose hearts and minds are aflame with the principles and spirit of liberty.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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