Shortly after the Iraqi city of Fallujah fell to the Islamic State (ISIS) in January 2014, President Obama was interviewed by The New Yorker. When asked about the loss of such an iconic city from the U.S. war in Iraq, Obama responded with his usual glibness: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Less than six-months after he made those comments, Obama’s “jayvee team” would establish an Islamic “Caliphate” spanning two countries, with an estimated 31,000 fighters from all over the world pouring into its territory for a chance to die martyrs’ deaths while fighting the western armies of “Rome.”
Yet, even as ISIS grows in size and brutality, Obama and his Administration continue to harbor a fantasy world in which, to them, these horrendous acts of terrorists are on par with those committed here in America by Christians during the Jim Crow era;and fueled today in the global jihad not by religious zeal, but by poor economic conditions and anti-immigrant racism. This sophomoric view of the world is neither funny nor tolerable; it is in fact emboldening our adversaries from Moscow to Mosul, and from Havana to Beijing, with potentially devastating harm to the interests of the United States and our allies.
With few exceptions, Obama’s predecessors in the Oval Office navigated the complex and high-stakes arena of international diplomacy based on a sober assessment of the world as it is. Now, Obama and his advisors make decisions based on the world as they dream it to be; and, if reality happens to fall outside their tightly crafted narrative, it is either marginalized or dismissed outright.
This desperate attempt to shoehorn an increasingly unstable international environment into a situation in which Obama remains the stoic “Savior,” has turned the State Department into a sideshow, with spokespersons spouting gibberish that would be comical if not for the fact that these people represent the United States to the rest of the world.
In the tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine, then-State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki (who recently was promoted to the White House staff) tweeted a picture of herself holding a piece of paper with “#UnitedForUkraine” scrawled on it. The childish “diplomatic” gesture immediately prompted headlines such as, “Russia sends troops, Obama administration sends a selfie.” More recently, as ISIS leaders publicly execute Americans, Christians, homosexuals, and others it does not consider true believers, a State Department spokesperson suggested with a straight face a “root cause” for the growth of ISIS was a “lack of opportunity for jobs.”
As the White House tried to convince Americans that ISIS sprang-up out of Mesopotamia overnight – a fantasy that fit nicely with the reality that the Administration was utterly unprepared to deal the threat for many months — ISIS was very public about articulating its goals in the region; even publishing annual reports about its progress. In fact, it was Obama’s ill-advised and Hillary-backed intervention in Libya, sending that country tumbling into chaos, that ISIS found the foothold in the region it needed to expand.
“Obama’s intervention in Libya was an abject failure, judged even by its own standards,” writes Alan Kuperman, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism … Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and [ISIS].”
The reason the Obama Administration so badly bungled the Libya intervention is the same reason why State Department spokespeople continue to speak of the war with ISIS in the same terms it would use to explain drug addiction or inner-city poverty: It refuses to accept the world and the actors on the international stage cannot be controlled with political messaging and spin. Therefore, rather than admitting even basic truths about the challenges it faces — like Islamic terrorists are actually Islamicand adhere zealously to a “theology that must be understood to be combatted” — this Administration prefers to trumpet so-called intelligence reports focused on specters and boogeymen with which it feels more comfortable, such as domestic “right-wing sovereign citizen extremist groups.”
Obama’s “Amateur Hour” foreign policy has managed to both inject America blindly into action in the name of preventing terrorism, while at the same time marginalizing other legitimate terror threats. At this juncture, halfway through Obama’s second term, and with the Congress seeming to lack the backbone to force the Administration to remove its rose-colored glasses and forsake its trademark “hashtag” diplomacy substituting for true statesmanship, we and our allies will continue to play defense while ISIS and other terror groups flourish in the vacuum left by America’s exit as a true leader on the world stage.
When the House and Senate reconvene this week following their Presidents Day recess, one of the hot topics of debate will be the request laid at their doorsteps earlier this month by President Obama, who wants the Congress to authorize him to go after ISIS.
Aside from the question of whether the president of the United States, who serves pursuant to the Constitution as commander i chief of the armed forces, even needs such authorization, there is every good reason for the Congress not to vote another Authorization for the Use of Military Force such as the one passed in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
As my mom urged me more than once, in words that served me well during my years in the political arena: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Unfortunately, both houses of the Congress appear predisposed to be fooled once again.
In the days immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush asked Congress for authority to employ military “force” against those individuals and entities responsible for or complicit in that morning’s attacks on the American homeland. Congress quickly complied.
What the Bush administration asked for — and what I and other members of the Congress believed we were granting at the time — was a limited and straightforward authorization for the executive branch to employ military “force” to go after al-Qaida and whoever else was responsible for or complicit in the 9/11 attacks. Boy, were we fooled.
No sooner did the ink dry on the AUMF than the Bush-Cheney administration began using it to justify all manner of actions, most having nothing to do with military “force,” to carry out a far-reaching anti-terrorism program of action abroad and at home. The resolution quickly morphed into a justification for massive surreptitious eavesdropping on American citizens, using torture in contravention of U.S. law, and conducting open-ended military operations in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe.
The abuse of the 9/11 AUMF continued throughout the Bush administration, and into the Obama presidency with few adjustments. And now, they want another one.
The problem here at its most fundamental is why such a thing as a resolution authorizing a president to take military action against individuals or entities that have killed American citizens and are aiming to further harm American individuals and interests, is necessary in the first place.
More important still is the question of how did a simple joint resolution of the Congress become the justification whereby the government overrode civil liberties guaranteed against such actions by the Bill of Rights; and why would the Congress even consider allowing it to happen again?
In the case of the 2001 AUMF, it was sleight of hand by the Bush administration that led Congress into thinking it was merely authorizing what the resolution stated explicitly it was authorizing — the use of force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In fact, however, the resolution became the cover for the Bush administration to do whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted, and whenever it wanted, against whatever targets — domestic or foreign — the White House decided to label a “terrorist threat.”
The Bush administration correctly gambled that, once passed, Congress would not later limit the subsequent reach of the resolution for fear of being labeled “soft” on terrorism.
Today, more than 13 years later, there are those, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who advocate another broad, largely open-ended AUMF to fight ISIS wherever and whenever its elements may be found. While some members of Congress are raising concerns over such a decision, many are not; and even among those expressing reservations, most are focusing on the specific — and important — geographic and time parameters of the resolution, not on preventing the more important constitutional abuses lurking beneath the surface.
The Congress is being asked to leave in place the broad and constitutionally-problematic 2001 AUMF, even as it gives the executive branch additional powers. Recent history tells us this is a recipe for serious constitutional mischief.
Instead of toying with another joint resolution, why not look to the Constitution, which requires that Congress fund those specific military programs it deems appropriate, prohibit those it opposes, and requires the president to operate as commander in chief within the bounds of the Constitution? That course of action, of course, would force the Congress to carefully consider and debate not only military operations, costs and responsibilities; but to understand the Constitution and the limits it places on government action.
Simply passing a resolution telling the president to “go after the bad guys” and worrying about the problems such action might cause later on, if at all, is so much easier.
Attorney Bob Barr of Smyrna is a former U.S. Republican congressman.
The fight to protect the Second Amendment from the clutches of the gun control crowd can feel much like the race between the tortoise and the hare made famous in Aesop’s Fables. Backed with huge budgets and armed with the moral elasticity to hijack any national tragedy to further their cause, gun control proponents employ flashy ads, emotional rhetoric and outright bullying to push their way to the forefront of the public debate. Meanwhile, Second Amendment supporters toil through the court system, winning occasional hard-fought victories in the drive to dismantle decades of laws designed to rob us of one of our most sacred natural rights.
One of those victories came last week, when a U.S. District Court judge in Texas found the federal interstate handgun transfer ban, established by the Gun Control Act of 1968 to be unconstitutional.
The case, Mance v. Holder, began when a law-abiding couple from Washington, D.C. tried to purchase a pair of handguns from a firearms retailer in Arlington, Texas. Because of the long-standing federal law prohibiting someone from one state from purchasing a handgun in another state, the couple was not able to complete the transaction. To do so in compliance with the federally-imposed system, the couple would have had to pay for the guns in Texas, then pay to have the dealer ship them to a federal firearms licensee (“FFL”) in their state of residence (Washington, DC). With the local authorities in Washington, DC being notoriously anti-gun, even finding an FFL in the nation’s capital willing to handle the transaction would be difficult.
According to veteran gun rights attorney Alan Gura, who also tried the landmark Heller and McDonald Second Amendment cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal ban impermissibly limits access to firearms for law-abiding citizens through reduced consumer choice, higher costs, and unnecessary delays. Predictably, the federal government argued the ban – which it views as a mere inconvenience for the law-abiding citizen — is necessary to ensure “public safety.”
Unswayed by the government’s boilerplate arguments, the District Court held the government failed to provide evidence sufficient to justify the burdens on Second Amendment rights imposed by the 1968 sales ban. Additionally, the Court correctly determined the ban violated the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. As Judge Reed O’Connor noted in his opinion, “[t]he federal interstate handgun transfer ban targets the entire national market of handgun sales and directly burdens law-abiding, responsible citizens who seek to complete otherwise lawful transactions for handguns.” O’Connor correctly summarized the fundamental defect in the 1968 law with these words — “The federal law not only creates a discriminatory regime based on residency, but it also involves access to the constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms.”
O’Connor’s ruling is important for Second Amendment rights not only because of the impact it will have on making firearms more accessible and less expensive for law-abiding citizens; but because of the way in which it builds on a string of crucial court decisions in the post-Heller era (that seminal decision was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008). This latest court victory – if affirmed on appeal – establishes that the individual right to keep and bear arms does not end at a state’s borders.
In the Congress, now under Republican control in both houses, legislative efforts to shore up these hard-fought judicial victories are gaining momentum. For example, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has introduced the “Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.” This legislation would ensure that if a citizen possesses a permit for the concealed carry of a firearm in one state, it must be recognized in any other state with concealed carry laws. This bill would treat concealed carry permits like driver’s licenses, which are issued by one state but recognized in all other states under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause. Cornyn notes also that the legislation would “eliminate some of the ‘gotcha moments,’ where people inadvertently cross state lines” with firearms they are legally allowed to carry in one state, but under the current gun control regime, oft times not in others. One need only look at the ongoing police harassment of out-of-state gun owners in Maryland to see how badly such a law is needed.
Gura said he fully expects that the U.S. government will appeal the Mance case; so it may be some time before we see the onerous interstate handgun transfer ban finally struck from the books. However, as the tortoise proved, it is the perseverance of the moral and virtuous that ultimately wins the race. Though the fight in the courts and in the legislatures will continue for many years to come, thanks to Second Amendment heroes like Gura and Cornyn, with each incremental victory the finish line as set by our Founding Fathers in the Bill of Rights grows closer.