Is the President’s Power to Wage War in Danger? Not Quite.

Is the President’s Power to Wage War in Danger? Not Quite.

Reading and watching some of the statements given by members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, one could not be struck by the rising level of personal disrespect levied against the President. The reality that a hearing titled ‘Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons’, ostensibly aimed at questioning the ability of the sitting President, Commander in Chief, to order a nuclear strike, was bizarre enough. Personal disagreements aside, how did such a conversation escalate so quickly, and under such an official capacity?

It’s not a secret that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been some of the most vocal anti-Trump rhetoricians on Capitol Hill. Prior to and since the United States citizenry cast their votes to have Donald Trump lead the nation for at least four years, the great majority of Democrats made it clear that they wouldn’t bestow the respect upon this president which has, at least initially, been granted to every previous president by fellow elected officials. Increasingly, it was made clear that members of the Republican party were not willing to bestow the respect of the office upon Donald Trump either, with each individual’s grievance against the president carrying varying weight.

But it seemed unimaginable to most, even those who saw the likes of John McCain, Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham, Bob Corker, and other Republican Never-Trumpers as insatiable in their nit-picking and railroading of all of Trump’s actions and agendas, that we would reach this point. That those Republicans in name, who with the exceptions of Graham and McCain are members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, would be openly questioning the President’s right to engage a nuclear strike should he see fit. As noted by the BBC, such a conversation has not been had since March of 1976, when Gerald Ford’s right to wage a nuclear strike with an election cycle imminent, was called into question. The circumstances were different in ’76, with Ford’s re-election facing a serious threat from within his own party, Ronald Reagan, as well as the Democratic nominee who would eventually win the presidency, Jimmy Carter.

Corker’s response in early October to President Trump’s threat to unleash ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea should their rhetoric on nuclear weapons continue to escalate was reported by many, including CNBC, as incendiary in its own right. It was suggested that Corker’s comments, which included the worn-out, personal jaunt that Trump was nothing more than a circus act, reality show puppeteer who was unsuitable for the office, undermined the executive while suggesting that the president was ‘rash’ and unpredictable. Further, it brought up the possibility of a World War III that had not been previously suggested by Trump. As Corker told the New York Times, ‘President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”’

For kicks, Corker added that his party’s representative in the White House ‘acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something. He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”. The moral grandstanding was not going to stop there, but it was Jeff Flake who carried the torch after disclosing that he wouldn’t seek re-election as a Republican Senator.

Flake lamented the “flagrant disregard of truth and decency” and bemoaning political complicity in a Senate speech clearly directed at President Donald Trump.

Flake, who has criticized the path the Republican Party has taken under Trump, said the impulse “to threaten and scapegoat” could turn America and the GOP into a “fearful, backward-looking people” and a “fearful, backward-looking party.” Flake didn’t mention Trump by name, but his remarks were unmistakably aimed at the president and his administration. (AJC)

It was an attack on a President and his supporters’ character that is virtually unprecedented in American politics prior to the Trump administration, especially less than a year into his term.

Forget Republican Senators and Representatives. These anti-Trump comments, in the eyes of most of the Americans who voted for Trump, still seem inexplicable. Were they watching the same political system, the same players, as Corker and Flake? Where was this outrage when Americans’ civil liberties were being systematically trampled on, dating back to the onset of America: Post 9/11? And what, exactly, besides a verbal threat meant to tone-down the rhetoric of North Korea, had prompted such attacks?

In pro-Trump Americans’ eyes, these Republican Senators had ceased being Republicans, as they were essentially making the same arguments and personal attacks against the President that we had become accustomed to seeing from Democrats. In the eyes of Trump supporters who feel justifiably that he has never been given a fair shot at governing from the onset of his presidency, these Republican Senators were worse than Democrats, they were turncoats.

But the hearing by the Committee on Foreign Relations, led by Corker, exposed how far never-Trumper, former Republicans are willing to turn their rhetoric into action. They are willing to openly challenge the idea that Trump should be granted the leeway, as all presidents have, to engage in nuclear strikes when deemed fit.

It is the most blatant undermining of the Presidency to date, and in a political era where rational policy arguments have been replaced with blanket comments about the man’s fundamental decency, that is saying a lot. But undermining rhetoric and hearings aren’t mutually exclusive, as Connecticut Democratic Chris Murphy made clear in opening Tuesday’s hearing. The hearing was in and of itself the greatest stand against, and most blatant undermining of the idea that we should have even the most minimal standard of respect for the office, yet. But more personal attacks within that hearing add insult to injury.

‘Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said: "We are concerned that the president is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national-security interests."’ (BBC)

Rhetoric cannot undermine these facts, however.

‘Another expert, Duke University's Peter Feaver, a political science professor, explained that a presidential order "requires personnel at all levels" to sign off on it.

It would be vetted by lawyers, as well as by the secretary of defense and individuals serving in the military.

"The president cannot by himself push a button and cause missiles to fly," said Prof Feaver.’

Another expert, Brian McKeon, a former under-secretary of defense for policy, said military officials would stop the president if they felt he was acting in a rash manner.

"Four-star generals are not shrinking violets," said Mr. McKeon. (BBC)

But to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a Committee apparently who knows all, and knows what’s best for America, will not accept a “general” as somebody who has the capacity to evaluate a president’s rationality when it comes to engaging in an act of war.

Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sounded skeptical.

‘"I don't think we should be trusting the generals to be a check on the president," he said.’

Consider the arrogance of that statement, the disrespect it shows toward the men in the military to whom we grant the highest possible distinction. And consider, with these comments and disregard for the facts about the checks and balances we have put on the executive in launching any act of war, including a nuclear attack, how pompous and out-of-line this committee is.

Fortunately, it is unlikely that anything of substance comes from their hearing, but the statement has been made. You can practically read the talking points now: ‘Bi-Partisan Senate Committee Calls for Revocation of Trump’s Nuclear Powers’. It will be used to dupe huge segments of an  American public which has branded itself as the ultimate mark for dishonest reporters. But to us paying attention, this is just another sign, albeit a disheartening one, that the establishment will stop at nothing to undermine, insult, and stall the President, who may be up against an unstoppable force.