- - Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Liberal hysteria over President Donald Trump’s legally impeccable international disengagements has surpassed the hysteria that fueled the Salem Witch Trials. But there is no Arthur Miller among the contemporary glitterati to dramatize the frenzy.

Consider the hyperbolic thunderbolts of the owlish Lawrence Summers, professor and past president of Harvard University, former Secretary of Treasury under President Bill Clinton, and economic adviser to President Barack Obama. Writing in the op-ed pages of The Washington Post (“Are we at a historical turning point?” June 5, 2017), Professor Summers sirens, “It is possible that last week will be remembered as a hinge in history—a moment when the United States and the world started moving away from the peace, prosperity and stability that have defined the past 75 years.”

But the economics wizard economized on the truth. After 9/11, the United States entered a state of perpetual, global warfare. President Obama inherited three unconstitutional presidential wars from his predecessor, and left nine unconstitutional presidential wars to his successor. Current wars have given birth to a staggering 65 million refugees. The Middle East and South Asia are convulsed from Libya and Egypt to Yemen, Syria, and Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The international terrorist threat is greater today than it was on 9/11 despite the United States expenditure of $10 trillion, killing 3 million to 4 million Muslims and pointlessly sacrificing the lives of tens of thousands of Americans in the armed forces.

Peace and stability have not defined the past 75 years. Among other things, that interval has witnessed the Korean War; the United States overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh in Iran and President Arbenz in Guatemala; the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro; assassination plots against Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Castro in Cuba and Salvador Allende in Chile; the Vietnam War, including napalm and the My Lai Massacre; the secret war in Laos (1964-1973) featuring 2.5 million tons of cluster bombs which continue to kill and maim Laotians to this very day; the Chinese Cultural Revolution; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the blood-stained disintegration of Yugoslavia; the 1956 British-French-Israel invasion of Egypt, the 1967 Six Days War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War; and protracted civil wars in South Africa and Rhodesia against apartheid.

Professor Summers accuses President Trump of losing an imaginary paradise on earth by withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, by seeking to revise NAFTA, by declining to deliver moral encyclicals to the world and by failing unilaterally to commit the United States militarily to defend the borders of all NATO members from external aggression, for instance, a Russian attack on Turkey or Estonia. 

Each accusation betrays a delirious mind. The 2015 Paris climate accord was never ratified by the Senate as required by the U.S. Constitution’s Treaty Clause. As an executive agreement approved by the president alone, the climate accord never commanded constitutional validity. President Trump simply wrote an official epitaph to a legal corpse. Moreover, everything in the agreement was hortatory. Nothing was binding. Signatory nations simply agreed to do what they would do out of self-interest without the Treaty, a political-environmental dynamic that remains undisturbed.

President Trump has not repudiated one word of NAFTA, a 1700 page agreement signed into law in 1993. He has not withdrawn from NAFTA by giving 6-months’ notice as was his right under Article 2205. Instead, the President has notified Canada, Mexico and the United States Congress 90 days in advance of contemplated negotiations of his intent to update the 23-year-old agreement in response to seismic changes in our economic landscape. The notification letter signed by United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer could not be more measured or reasonable. Among other things, it elaborates:

[W]e note that NAFTA was negotiated 25 years ago, and while our economy and businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not. Many chapters are outdated and do not reflect modern standards. For example, digital trade was in its infancy when NAFTA was enacted … Our aim is that NAFTA be modernized to include new provisions to address intellectual property rights, regulatory policies, state-owned enterprises, customs procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labor, environment, and small and medium enterprises.

Professor Summers’ fury at President Trump’s refusal to deliver moral sermons to the world is particularly fatuous. (Mr. Summers served without protest under a president who played prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner to kill Americans suspected of endangering national security on his say-so alone, based on secret, unsubstantiated information.) Nothing in constitutional law or international relations commends schoolmarm-like preaching from the White House. As British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston taught, nations have no permanent friends or enemies, but only permanent interests. President Woodrow Wilson’s moral lectures during World War I facilitated the wretched Treaty of Versailles—the fuse of World War II. French President Georges Clemenceau acerbically remarked about Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference that while “he talked like Jesus Christ he acted like [British Prime Minister] Lloyd George.” Has Mr. Summers forgotten that those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make morally arrogant?

Finally, Article 5 of NATO does not and constitutionally could not commit the United States to war to defend the borders of member nations. Article 11 provides: “[The provisions of] this Treaty shall be…carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.” The Declare War Clause of the U.S. Constitution exclusively empowers Congress to take the nation from a state of peace to war. It cannot be done by the president alone or by the president and Senate in making treaties. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Reid v. Covert (1957) that treaties are subservient to constitutional limitations.

Now you know why William F. Buckley Jr. declared he “should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

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