- - Monday, June 5, 2017


Since its announcement last Thursday, the Trump administration has endured a firestorm of criticism, tidal waves of denunciation and, well, beheadings-in-effigy for its decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord.

Fear and dread grip the commentators, as they struggle to pronounce ever more apocalyptic predictions. CNN’s David Gergen went so far as to call the U.S. withdrawal “one of the most shameful acts in our history.”

On the political Richter scale, it has been a 9.5 cataclysm, with follow-on red-ink tsunamis and volcanic editorial eruptions.

Former President Obama said the United States now “joins a small handful of nations that reject the future.” Oh my. According to our past president, there is no future beyond last Thursday. Yet here we are. Likewise, European Union leaders preemptively declared an end to all future climate negotiations with the U.S. So who is rejecting the future?

Now that the churlish venting has subsided, let’s examine some of the key lessons. First, easy come, easy go. This episode shows exactly why treaties should be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Obama knew the accord could not be approved by the American democratic process. The elected representatives of the American people would never have ratified this treaty. So, as he so often did, he did an end-run around the constitutional ratification process of Article I, Section 2 to enter the Paris accord by the back door.

President Trump is denounced for withdrawing, but the United States never actually entered the Paris Climate accord in the first place — at least not in a constitutional sense. Mr. Obama knew the Senate would never approve the deal as a treaty, so our law professor-in-chief simply called it an “executive agreement” (“Treaty? What treaty?”) and never submitted it for ratification.

Mr. Obama entered the Paris accord; Mr. Trump exited the accord; and the elected representatives of the people were cut out of the game. Just like Obamacare, which failed to garner a single Republican vote, presidents should learn to do it the right way the first time around.

Under Article VI, a duly ratified treaty is the “supreme law of the land,” instead of the ephemeral druthers of a president. When the Constitution is respected, successor presidents can’t simply pencil-whip a repeal of policies that should be more enduring.

Second, while a herd of irate commentators follow the narrative that Mr. Trump is opposed to international climate agreements, the president explicitly rejected that canard in his Rose Garden announcement. Did anyone listen before declaring another “Trumpocalypse”? In fact, the president declared his determination to seek a more balanced and realistic agreement with attainable carbon-dioxide reduction targets, despite the pouting across the Atlantic.

If Mr. Trump had led the Paris negotiations, there could have been a more enduring deal, which the Senate might have ratified and the world could have applauded. But Mr. Obama took the constitutional shortcut and left his successor to reckon with the consequences of a politically unstable deal.

Third, despite the extreme rhetoric on the left, the United States has not abandoned its role as world leader in any sense. The U.S. leads the world in green energy innovation, and withdrawing from the accord will not change that. The president knows that the American green industry is booming precisely because there are powerful economic incentives — not because of Mr. Obama’s greenhouse gas lectures and unilateral dealmaking.

While CNN loads its schedule with expert critics of Mr. Trump’s “Accordexit” and the Chinese lecture us on environmental stewardship, the United States remains the world’s laboratory on climate research, its incubator of new technology and its largest donor of foreign assistance to reduce pollution and ameliorate the effects of climate change. The president knows that U.S. leadership will continue, with or without Mr. Obama’s unratified deal. We were leaders in green technology long before Barack Obama went to Paris, and we will remain so throughout the 21st century.

• Jack Einwechter is a retired U.S. Army judge advocate, lieutenant colonel, prosecutor and intelligence officer. He currently practices law in Southern California.

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