Release the Memo That Really Matters 

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “declare war.”

.. In practice, however, it seems as if the rule is observed mainly in the breach. In the post–World War II era, American forces have been committed time and again even in offensive military actions without even the slightest effort to obtain congressional authorization.

.. The latest example occurred on April 6, 2017, when President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on Syria in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons

.. Unless there is classified information we don’t yet know, a strike of this nature is exactly the kind of military action that should require congressional approval.

.. We were not at war with Syria. We were not acting in immediate self-defense of our nation. We were not fulfilling a Senate-ratified treaty obligation.

.. Shrugging off the Constitution is a bipartisan practice.

  • Who can forget President Obama’s strikes against Libya? He ordered offensive military action against a sovereign nation without a declaration of war.
  • While George W. Bush obtained congressional authorization for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his predecessor,
  • Bill Clinton, launched extended aerial campaigns in the former Yugoslavia with no congressional vote.

years of presidential overreach, congressional inaction, and partisan bickering have jeopardized our constitutional structure. We are steadily moving away from the separation of powers and toward an unconstitutional legal regime that places sole war-making authority in the hands of an increasingly imperial presidency.

.. There are widespread reports that the president is considering launching a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea — a strike designed to send the strongest possible message, short of all-out war — that its ICBM program has to end.

.. The discussions are apparently so serious that the administration pulled its nominee for ambassador to South Korea, Victor Cha, because he opposed the strike. He then immediately took to the pages of the Washington Post to express his opposition

.. We are not facing the necessity of immediate self-defense. Oh, and in both countries, military action carries with it risks of dangerous escalation. With Russian boots on the ground in Syria, miscalculation risks a great-power conflict. With immense North Korean forces clustered near the border of South Korea, miscalculation risks a truly terrible war.

.. New military action in Syria and new military action in North Korea represent textbook cases for congressional authorization.

.. So why did the administration feel that it had the legal authority to order its Syria strike?

Well, it turns out there’s a memo.

.. Prior to the Syria strike, the administration generated a classified document by an “interagency group of attorneys” that analyzed the “legal basis for potential military action.

.. We cannot sustain and protect our constitutional structure if we delegate arguments against the unconstitutional abuse of presidential authority exclusively to members of whichever party is out of power.

.. it’s time for Senator Corker to insist on a public debate and congressional authorization before we launch any new military action against North Korea.

.. While the facts supporting the argument may well be legitimately classified, the legal analysis itself — which will turn on questions of constitutional, statutory, and international law — should be a matter of open inquiry.

‘The Russians Have Succeeded Beyond Their Wildest Expectations’

Former intelligence chief James Clapper says President Trump is dead wrong about Russian interference in America’s elections. And they’re going to get away with it again, he warns.

.. “I mean, the Russians succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations. Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded to a fare-thee-well. They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded to a fare-thee-well.”

“They’ve been emboldened,” he added, “and they will continue to do this.”

.. Trump’s rhetoric is “downright scary and disturbing,” Clapper agonized in an extraordinary monologue on live TV in August, amid Trump’s “fire and fury” threats toward North Korea. He questioned Trump’s “fitness for office” and openly worried about his control over the nuclear launch codes. In our conversation, Clapper didn’t back off one word of it, slamming Trump’s lies, “distortions and untruths.”

.. And he is certainly no liberal partisan: just ask Democrats like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who excoriated Clapper for what appeared to be misleading a Senate committee about the intelligence community’s surveillance of private U.S. citizens, information later revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures. (His testimony was “a big mistake,” Clapper now says, but not “a lie.”

..  a tough-minded former Air Force lieutenant general who once said, “I never met a collection capability I didn’t like.”

.. “It’s a very painful thing for me to be seen as a critic of this president,” he told me, “but I have those concerns.”

.. what he did when then-President-elect Trump first started attacking the intelligence community’s Russia findings. He didn’t publicly blast Trump—he called him on the phone.

.. more significant Russian arms-control violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. “If you look at what Russia is trying to do to undermine us, and the modernization of their strategic nuclear forces—and they only have one adversary in mind when they do that

.. appearing to lecture Americans on why only that small percentage of citizens who have served in the military could understand the nature of their sacrifice.

.. He took particular issue with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comment that Kelly’s word about the congresswoman should not be second-guessed because he had been a four-star general, a remark Clapper called “absurd.”

.. worried about the Trump era as the new age of militarized government, not only with Kelly as chief of staff but also a sitting lieutenant general, H.R. McMaster, as national security adviser, and a former general, James Mattis, as defense secretary. Clapper said that while he has “a visceral aversion” to generals “filling these political, civilian positions,” he’s nonetheless “glad they’re there.”

.. he fears that “some of this intemperate, bellicose rhetoric” between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to a “cataclysmic” war.

The risk, he said, came primarily from Kim miscalculating as a result of Trump’s heated words.

.. “Kim Jong Un doesn’t have any advisers that are going to give him objective counsel. He’s surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance, and pushing back against the great leader is not a way to get ahead,” Clapper said. “And so I do wonder what Kim Jong Un’s ignition point is, when some insult that’s been hurled at him by the president will just ignite him.”

.. The 25th Amendment that people bring up is a very, very high bar for removal, and appropriately so. And if that were to happen—and let’s just say for the sake of discussion there were an impeachment, even less likely a conviction—all that would serve to do is heighten the polarization and the divisiveness, because the base will never accept that, and that would just feed the conspiracy theories.”

What Are the Chances the War of Words with North Korea Escalates?

Wars often begin through miscalculation, and it’s easier to imagine a direct North Korean show of force — another shelling, for example — escalating more quickly in the current environment. It’s also easier to imagine a North Korean overreaction to a perceived American threat.In other words, it’s quite possible that we could essentially stumble into war. That’s the context in whichTrump’s rhetoric is most troubling. It’s not clear what he stands to gain with his aggressive words, and to the extent they have an effect, they seem to be backfiring. There’s no indication that his words are deterring the DPRK from pursuing an active ICBM force. To the contrary, they are incentivizing North Korea’s rush to create deliverable intercontinental weapons. They aren’t “scaring” North Korea into any sort of compliance with American wishes. Kim Jong-un is countering Trump rhetoric not just with rhetoric of his own but also with actions that frighten every American ally in the region — the kind of actions that raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation. Nor is there much evidence that Trump’s rhetoric is triggering a Chinese response decisive enough to force the DPRK into compliance. At least not yet.

Fears of Missiles, and Words

But Mr. Trump is president of the United States, and if prudent, disciplined leadership was ever required, it is now. Rhetorically stomping his feet, as he did on Tuesday, is not just irresponsible; it is dangerous. He is no longer a businessman trying to browbeat someone into a deal. He commands the most powerful nuclear and conventional arsenal in the world, and any miscalculation could be catastrophic.

.. This is a president with no prior government or military experience who has shown no clear grasp of complex strategic issues.

.. his inflammatory words were entirely improvised and took his closest associates by surprise. Intentionally or not, they echoed President Harry Truman’s 1945 pledgeto inflict a “rain of ruin from the air” if Japan did not surrender after the first atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, which made them seem even more ominous.

It is hard to believe that they would condone Mr. Trump’s risky approach, and on Wednesday, the damage control began.

  • While Mr. Mattis reinforced his boss’s belligerent tone and expressed confidence that North Korea would “lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” he more prudently focused on the North’s concrete “actions” rather than on vague threats and voiced support for a diplomatic solution.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he saw no reason to believe that war was imminent.
  • Meanwhile, some White House aides reportedly urged reporters not to read too much into the president’s remarks.

.. Since Truman, presidents have largely avoided the kind of militaristic threats issued by Mr. Trump because they feared such language could escalate a crisis.

.. Mr. Trump has again made himself the focus of attention, when it should be Kim Jong-un, the ruthless North Korean leader, and his accelerating nuclear

.. Engaging in a war of words with North Korea only makes it harder for both sides to de-escalate.

How China’s President Could Bully Trump

Xi Jinping may take advantage of an inexperienced and untested American leader.

Khrushchev came away convinced not merely that Kennedy was all talk and no action, but that he didn’t have the spine to counter Soviet aggression.

Within months, Moscow had given orders to build the Berlin Wall, and U.S. and Soviet tanks faced each other across Checkpoint Charlie. The following year, Khrushchev sent nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles into Cuba, precipitating an American naval quarantine and bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.

.. Just as Khrushchev believed of his country, Xi apparently believes that time is on China’s side, despite clear evidence of mounting economic problems at home. And like their Soviet predecessors, today’s Chinese believe that American society is too soft to commit to a long-term competition around the globe.

.. Unlike Kennedy, however, Trump has given Xi reasons to believe he is not fully committed to America’s postwar role in the world. The second most famous line from Kennedy’s inaugural address proclaimed that America “would pay any price, bear any burden … support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” By contrast, Trump declared in his that “from this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”
.. Trump’s America First rhetoric alone might have encouraged Xi to see how far the president can be pushed; the wide swings in Trump’s policy toward China may embolden the Chinese leader even further. What started out as a surprisingly hard line against China during the campaign and transition into office has significantly softened in the two months since he took office, leading to charges that Trump has flip-flopped or caved to Chinese pressure. In the days leading up to the summit, the president again took a harder line.
.. The one trade move that Trump did make—withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership—is a boon to Beijing’s efforts to forge its own Asian free trade agreement.
.. get Trump himself to agree to Chinese formulations of Sino-U.S. relations as ones of “mutual respect,” meaning respecting core interests like Taiwan, or “win-win” cooperation, whereby difficult issues like cyberattacks are shelved.
Such were the statements made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Beijing, which were eagerly trumpeted by the state-run press. If Trump mouthed the same phrases, it would give the appearance of a U.S. president essentially accepting China as an equal, if not dominant, power in Asia.
.. he could declare an “air defense identification zone” over the South China Sea
.. It would force Trump to respond—or seem to be acquiescing to the extension of China’s control in an area where multiple nations claim territorial rights.
.. Xi could deploy fighter squadrons and anti-air and anti-ship missiles to other disputed islands. That would put China in a largely unassailable position in what is perhaps the world’s most vital waterway, and make American claims about protecting the high seas seem like empty proclamations.
.. Xi could be even more convinced he can get away with some or all of these activities because the Trump administration is still largely bereft of high-ranking political appointees fit to make Asia policy.
.. Two months into Trump’s term, no assistant secretary of defense or state for Asia has even been announced, let alone formally nominated.