Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 5, 2009

CHUTZPAH WATCH.... John Bolton, the former ambassador to the U.N., and former deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, best known for his torture memos and creative ideas about the "unitary executive," have a fascinating op-ed in the New York Times today. Now that Bush is leaving office, Bolton and Yoo believe -- get this -- the president should have less authority and discretion when it comes to international affairs.

The Constitution's Treaty Clause has long been seen, rightly, as a bulwark against presidential inclinations to lock the United States into unwise foreign commitments. The clause will likely be tested by Barack Obama's administration, as the new president and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, led by the legal academics in whose circles they have long traveled, contemplate binding down American power and interests in a dense web of treaties and international bureaucracies.

Like past presidents, Mr. Obama will likely be tempted to avoid the requirement that treaties must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate.... By insisting on the proper constitutional process for treaty-making, Republicans can join Mr. Obama in advancing a bipartisan foreign policy. They can also help strike the proper balance between the legislative and executive branches that so many have called for in recent years.

As Bolton and Yoo see it, Obama might pursue international treaties that "subordinate" the United States to "international control" under the auspices of the "'global governance' movement." As such, they argue, Obama must only enter into international agreements that have the support of two-thirds of the Senate.

Reading this, I had to double check to make sure we were talking about the same Bolton and Yoo. After all, John Yoo has spent most of the last eight years arguing that the president has an unfettered power to do as he pleases on the international stage. Indeed, Yoo argued that the president can literally ignore any law he chooses -- including the Constitution -- if he decides it's in the nation's interests.

But that was then. Now Yoo is worried about executive overreach. Now Yoo wants every letter of the Constitution to be respected and adhered to without exception. The very same people who argued that the president must act without restriction when pursuing his foreign policy are now arguing that the president must honor the Treaty Clause at all costs.

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Comments

No one should have to live in the world Bolton and Yoo have imagined! Look what its done to us when the both of them were placed in a position to promote their delusions! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 5, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

"intellectually dishonest" is the polite way to describe them

"bullshit artists" is true, though, too

and Yoo is a war criminal who should be sent to The Hague.

Posted by: sjw on January 5, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

I most certainly hope that this column/blog is not in fact suggesting that the executive continue to abuse its power, and ignore the Constitution? I most certainly hope that in the left's giddiness over assuming power, it does not perpetuate the mistakes and transgressions of the Bush adminsitratio0n, but that it in fact reign in the pwoer of the executive, even if it means that the current leftt president elect must adher to the Constitution. But, by the tone of this blog, I doubt that the left will be able to stay calm and objective in its heady rush of power.

Posted by: Chris on January 5, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that the new administration certainly should respect the constitution and accept a more limited scope of presidential powers. But the hypocrisy of Bolton and Yoo is sickening. Yoo is quite arguably a war criminal, and certainly someone who should be shunned by any decent human being.

Posted by: Kevin on January 5, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.

Hey, Bolton and Yoo no doubt loudly insisted that the Status of Forces agreement that's the fig leaf of legitimacy for our occupation of Iraq be ratified by the full Stnate...oh, wait...

As for Chris, nice straw man, especially considering that Obama isn't even in office yet. Then again, since the Right has already abandoned its role as an honest opposition -- as exemplified by Chris' post -- it's in a piss-poor position to complain about, let alone check, any abuses of power (not that they'll refrain from complaining, of course). Nice going.


Posted by: Gregory on January 5, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I most certainly hope that this column/blog is not in fact suggesting that the executive continue to abuse its power, and ignore the Constitution? -Chris

There is absolutely no intellectually honest way you can arrive at that conclusion based on the article.

Steve is merely pointing out the hypocrisy of Bolton and Yoo, who both argued for unbridled and unlawful expansion of executive power previously and are now arguing that executive power should be limited.

That has no bearing on what Steve thinks Obama will or should do.

Posted by: doubtful on January 5, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.
======================

No.

How can they expect to be taken seriously? They can expect to be taken seriously because -- consistently -- they are taken seriously. What does being asked to write an op-ed for the New York Times represent in your world? In my drivers' manual, that'd fall under being taken awfully damn seriously.

They've been taken seriously every time they say something, no matter how stupid it is and no matter how egregiously wrong they have been on each previous occasion, so why shouldn't they expect it?

Why they are taken seriously is a total mystery. You might want to ask the New York Times about that. Good luck.

Professional Journalism™ -- gotta love it!

Posted by: Ghost of Joe Liebling's Dog on January 5, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

The only conviction a republican really has is a criminal conviction.

All other principles are conditional.

Posted by: cheflovesbeer on January 5, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm just waiting for the NYT, or CNN to announce that Alberto Gonzales will be joining their staff as a legal/political analyst and commentator.

Posted by: Winknandanod on January 5, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Bolton gave one of my favorite Daily Show interviews a while back on the unitary executive.

Posted by: JJ on January 5, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery."

The fact that they have been given prime space in The New York Times to propound their views demonstrates that they ARE being taken seriously.

And seriously, if you really find it "a total mystery" that the views of people like Bolton and Yoo are "taken seriously" by America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. and its propaganda arm, the corporate-owned mass media, then you raise the question of what in the world is someone so naive and oblivious doing blogging about such things?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

But, by the tone of this blog, I doubt that the left will be able to stay calm and objective in its heady rush of power.
"Heady rush to power." An economy in shambles, millions of jobs going up in smoke, a monster national debt, worn out Army, nearly fifty million Americans with no health insurance. Yeah, that's power all right. We'll be lucky if the Obama administration can even begin to clean up all of the piles of shit that right! president Bush has left behind. Your sudden reverence for the Constitution would be more convincing if you weren't a part of the same pack of fools who clapped their flippers every time Bush/Cheney used that document for asswipe.
If you don't like the tone of the this blog you're cordially invited to fuck off.

Posted by: Reverend Dennis on January 5, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Would not surprise me to see MSNBC added to list of hiring Gonzo - This past weekend, NBC, hired Matt Millen, the former GM of the Detroit Lions, who was fired for, not only the 0-16 season, but, setting back the Lions for many years to come. He was hired by NBC to be an "analyst". So, Gonzo is not much of a stretch. The RepuG mantra "Fail upwards".

Posted by: berttheclock on January 5, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Serious (not intended as snark) question that I hope somebody will answer, because I want to understand the full implication (and/or the full hypocrisy) of what they are saying:

Are Bolton/Yoo arguing that even an agreement like the "Status of Forces Agreement" that Bush and Maliki just signed should be ratified by 2/3 Congress?

(If not, why not)

Thanks!

Posted by: A DC Wonk on January 5, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Note, too, that Bolton has an op-ed in the WaPo today.

I haven't checked the Pennysaver yet.


.

Posted by: spork_incident on January 5, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I most certainly hope that this column/blog is not in fact suggesting that the executive continue to abuse its power,

and I certainly hope you're not as obtuse as you appear to be.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on January 5, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Note to Yoo and Bolton:

You have the right to remain silent. Any thing you say or write may be held against you in a court of law.

Posted by: Danp on January 5, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

The trick was that these guys only believed in the kind of executive power they were preaching when it was their guy that was the executive. Sort of like:

Republicans only liking the filibuster when they are in the minority, otherwise they believe in straight up/down votes.

Cheney and Republicans believing in the unitary executive only when it is a Republican in the White House - otherwise the government is full of a bunch of jack-booted thugs.

Basically it is all about power. They think they are good and therefore use power responsibly where as Democrats are bad so it follows that they use power irresponsibly. Republicans just forgot that no party stays in power forever.

Posted by: ET on January 5, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.

Given the way things have worked in recent years, how these guys expect to be taken seriously is completely obvious.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on January 5, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

D'oh! Now they tell us.

I wonder if Dick Cheney would accuse John Bolton of diminishing the office of the Presidency.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 5, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

It is quite easy to determine who is a true patriot and who is not. Just look at their enemies. Yoo and Bolton are hated by the "blame America first" far-left. That makes them heroes in my book.

Posted by: fred t on January 5, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'


I, for one, will be glad when we back on the reality side of the looking glass...come 1/20/2009. And I hope that the NYT will then refrain from giving good column space to creeps and morons. And, while we are on the subject, when is Kristol due to depart?

Liberal media my fat behind!!

Posted by: majun on January 5, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Both of them should be the poster boys for Family Planning. I believe the best part of both NEVER made it as far as the worst parts did!

Posted by: iggy on January 5, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Taken seriously? They have an op-ed in the NYTimes.

Can't get more serious than that.

This also calls to mind what Digby said about hypocrisy among Republicans.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 5, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that "fred t" considers war criminals Bolton and Yoo -- the latter, let's not forget, wrote memoes defending torture and the supremacy of the Executive, in clear violation of the priciples of genuine American heroes like George Washington, who opposed both -- "heroes" simply because his political opponents object to them says all that need to be said about the degeneracy and decadence of movement conservatism.

Posted by: Gregory on January 5, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Are Bolton/Yoo arguing that even an agreement like the "Status of Forces Agreement" that Bush and Maliki just signed should be ratified by 2/3 Congress? - A DC Wonk

The opposite, I would argue. They want Obama to ignore SOFA, precisely because it wasn't ratified. More importantly is whether they think we should adhere to the UN deadline of, well, now, to leave Iraq. And the answer to that would almost certainly be "no!".

Posted by: Danp on January 5, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously by honest people is a total mystery.

Fixed.

Posted by: DH Walker on January 5, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Fred: It is quite easy to determine who is a true patriot and who is not. Just look at their enemies.

Agreed. Yoo's enemies are the US Constitution and American moral principles of every kind. What kind of person considers this kind of amoral, anti-American fascist to be a "hero"?

Patriot, my ass.

Posted by: DH Walker on January 5, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

The complete shamelessness of this makes my head spin. This is the most cynical thing I have seen in years.

Posted by: Dan on January 5, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Like past presidents, Mr. Obama will likely be tempted to avoid the requirement that treaties must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate.... -- Eff Yoo and Bolthead

And there you have it. The two-thirds of Senate approval. Which, they know very well, Obama won't have (as the Shrub wouldn't have had in many instances). They're just laying the foundations for obstructionism, is all.

Posted by: exlibra on January 5, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Why is Yoo still on the faculty at Berkley? Why are there not daily protests being held in front of his office demanding he be fired?

I know hoping that he be tried as a war criminal is in vain. But these two things should be happening.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 5, 2009 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.

The total mystery is why the NY Times give them a platform.

Posted by: Jenna's Bush on January 5, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK
I most certainly hope that this column/blog is not in fact suggesting that the executive continue to abuse its power, and ignore the Constitution?

It is not contrary to the Constitution for an agreement of international character (which would, ipso facto, not be a treaty if this is done) to be implemented through normal statute law (requiring a majority each of the House and Senate and the approval of the President) rather than a treaty (requiring the President and 2/3 of the Senate), so long as the substance of the agreement is within the Constitutional scope of Congressional power under the Constitution.

Nor is it contrary to the Constitution for purely executive agreements to be entered into, so long as they require only the exercise of Constitutional executive powers to implement, and do not require the legal force of a treaty or statute law.

The treaty power mostly creates a sometimes-expedient alternative to regular law which is useful in implementing international agreements. But there is almost nothing that can be done under the Constitution through the treaty power that could not be done through statute law.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 5, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The real point of Bolton and Yoo's column is not to defend the separation of powers or the Senate’s role as a check on the Executive. Both of these are entirely legitimate concerns for people who really care about the Constitution, but which these two unitary executive unilateralists care about not in the slightest. The real point of this utterly cynical column is to protect neoconservative foreign policy gains by wrapping the tissue of Constitutional respectability around the unspoken idea that the Republican Senate minority ought to be granted inordinate control over American foreign policy through the 2/3 vote needed to ratify treaties. And to do this, the Obama administration must be cajoled or bullied into doing precisely that which the Bush administration refused to do as a matter of principle -- involve Congress as equal partners in the making of American foreign policy. The idea that Obama should personally hand over to Republicans the monkey wrench with which to throw into his foreign policy machinery is only slightly more bizarre or obnoxious than the expressed intention of right wing Senate Republicans to take control of domestic policy by filibustering virtually everything with which they disagree. And since Bolton and Yoo believe that agreements with other countries actually limit American power and undermine American sovereignty, what they really hope to achieve in their defense of the Senate’s treaty-making powers is the prevention of the Senate making treaties at all.

Posted by: Ted Frier on January 5, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Dear "I most certainly hope that",

I most certainly hope you understand that the opinion of two faced hypocrits such as Bolton and Yoo, who supported extraordinary extensions of Presidential power with bizarre and invalid legal positions when their ilk controled the Presidency but now oppose hypothetical abuse of Presidential power by a President elect, when Presidential decision making is about to move beyond their influence, should not, and hopefully will not, be taken seriously.

Posted by: robert on January 5, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

How these guys expect to be taken seriously is a total mystery.

It's not that they expect to be taken seriously by rational individuals. It's that they can count on the impaired short term memory of the rightwing koolaid drinkers (Something in that koolaid) to allow them to get away with their hypocrisy without being laughed at. The people on the right who are bright enough to appreciate the idiocy of their statements are also trying to get the masses to forget what has gone before. It reminds me greatly of Animal Farm where the sheep were the propagandizing mouthpieces for the pigs and could be counted on to thoughtlessly repeat whatever they were told. Are you listening, Grey Lady?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on January 5, 2009 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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